Personality disorder symptomatology (PD-Sx) can result in personal distress and impaired interpersonal functioning, even in the absence of a clinical diagnosis, and is frequently comorbid with psychiatric disorders such as substance use, mood, and anxiety disorders; however, they often remain untreated, and are not taken into account in clinical studies. To investigate brain morphological correlates of PD-Sx, we measured subcortical volume and shape, and cortical thickness/surface area, based on structural magnetic resonance images. We investigated 37 subjects who reported PD-Sx exceeding DSM-IV Axis-II screening thresholds, and 35 age, sex, and smoking status-matched control subjects. Subjects reporting PD-Sx were then grouped into symptom-based clusters: N = 20 into Cluster B (reporting Antisocial, Borderline, Histrionic, or Narcissistic PD-Sx) and N = 28 into Cluster C (reporting Obsessive-Compulsive, Avoidant, or Dependent PD-Sx); N = 11 subjects reported PD-Sx from both clusters, and none reported Cluster A (Paranoid, Schizoid, or Schizotypal) PD-Sx. Compared to control, Cluster C PD-Sx was associated with greater striatal surface area localized to the caudate tail, smaller ventral striatum volumes, and greater cortical thickness in right prefrontal cortex. Both Cluster B and C PD-Sx groups also showed trends toward greater posterior caudate volumes and orbitofrontal surface area anomalies, but these findings did not survive correction for multiple comparisons. The results point to morphological abnormalities that could contribute to Cluster C PD-Sx. In addition, the observations parallel those in substance use disorders, pointing to the importance of considering PD-Sx when interpreting findings in often-comorbid psychiatric disorders.
Keywords: DSM Axis-II; magnetic resonance imaging; morphology; personality; striatum.