Objective: Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is characterized by increased self-reported stress and emotional responding. Knowledge about the psychological and physiological mechanisms that underlie these experiences in BPD patients is scarce. The objective was to assess both psychological and endocrinological responses to a standardized psychosocial stressor in female BPD patients and healthy controls.
Methods: A total of 15 female BPD patients and 17 healthy control subjects were included in a case-control study. All subjects were free of any medication, had a regular menstrual cycle, and were investigated during the luteal phase of their menstrual cycle. Co-occurring current major depression, current substance abuse/dependence, and lifetime schizophrenia or bipolar I disorder were excluded. Psychological measures of stress, salivary cortisol, salivary alpha-amylase, plasma ACTH, plasma norepinephrine and epinephrine concentrations were measured before, during, and after exposure to a standardized psychosocial stress protocol.
Results: BPD patients displayed maladaptive cognitive appraisal processes regarding the upcoming stressor as well as significantly higher subjective stress, coupled with a substantial cortisol and alpha-amylase hyporeactivity to the stressor in comparison to the controls. No significant differences for ACTH and catecholaminergic responses were observed, while the ACTH:cortisol ratio was higher in BPD patients than in controls.
Conclusions: Attenuated cortisol responsiveness in BPD patients might in part be explained by decreased adrenal responsiveness to endogenous ACTH and altered central noradrenergic activation as reflected by alpha-amylase.
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