Childhood adversity modulation of central autonomic network components during cognitive regulation of emotion in major depressive disorder and borderline personality disorder

Psychiatry Res Neuroimaging. 2021 Dec 30:318:111394. doi: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2021.111394. Epub 2021 Oct 10.


Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have lifelong effects on emotional behavior and are frequent in Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). The Central Autonomic Network (CAN), which modulates heart rate variability (HRV), comprises brain regions that mediate emotion regulation processes. However, it remains unclear the effect of ACEs on CAN dynamics and its relationship with HRV in these disorders. We studied the effects of ACEs on the brain and HRV simultaneously, during regulation of psychological stress in 19 BPD, 20 MDD and 20 healthy controls (HC). Participants underwent a cognitive reappraisal task during fMRI with simultaneous ECG acquisition. ACEs exposure was associated with increased activity of CAN and salience network components in patients with MDD compared to BPD during cognitive reappraisal. A brain-autonomic coupling was found in BPD relative to HC during emotion regulation, whereby greater activity of left anterior cingulate and medial superior frontal gyrus areas was coupled with increased HRV. Results suggest that ACEs exposure is associated with a distinct activation of the CAN and salience network regions governing responses to psychological stress in MDD compared to BPD. These alterations may constitute a distinctive neurobiological mechanism for abnormal emotion processing and regulation related to ACEs in MDD.

Keywords: Autonomic nervous system; Borderline; Depression; Early-life adversity; Emotion regulation; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adverse Childhood Experiences*
  • Borderline Personality Disorder* / psychology
  • Cognition
  • Depressive Disorder, Major* / diagnostic imaging
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Humans