Objective: The authors sought to test the hypothesis that in patients with borderline personality disorder, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and associated regions would not be activated during a task requiring motor inhibition in the setting of negative emotion. Such a finding would provide a plausible neural basis for the difficulty borderline patients have in modulating their behavior during negative emotional states and a potential marker for treatment interventions.
Method: A specifically designed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) activation probe was used, with statistical parametric mapping analyses, to test hypotheses concerning decreased prefrontal inhibitory function in the context of negative emotion in patients with borderline personality disorder (N=16) and healthy comparison subjects (N=14). 3-T fMRI scanning was used to study brain activity while participants performed an emotional linguistic go/no-go task.
Results: Analyses confirmed that under conditions associated with the interaction of behavioral inhibition and negative emotion, borderline patients showed relatively decreased ventromedial prefrontal activity (including medial orbitofrontal and subgenual anterior cingulate) compared with healthy subjects. In borderline patients, under conditions of behavioral inhibition in the context of negative emotion, decreasing ventromedial prefrontal and increasing extended amygdalar-ventral striatal activity correlated highly with measures of decreased constraint and increased negative emotion, respectively.
Conclusions: These findings suggest specific frontolimbic neural substrates associated with core clinical features of emotional and behavioral dyscontrol in borderline personality disorder.