Emotional instability is a defining feature of borderline personality disorder (BPD), yet little is understood about its underlying neural correlates. One possible contributing factor to emotional instability is a failure to adequately employ adaptive cognitive regulatory strategies such as psychological distancing.
To determine whether there are differences in neural dynamics underlying this control strategy, between BPD patients and healthy volunteers (HC’s), BOLD fMRI signals were acquired as 18 BPD and 16 HC subjects distanced from or simply looked at negative and neutral pictures depicting social interactions. Contrasts in signal between distance and look condition were compared between groups to identify commonalities and differences in regional activation.
BPD patients show a different pattern of activation compared to HC subjects when looking at negative vs. neutral pictures. When distancing vs. looking at negative pictures, both groups showed decreased negative affect in rating and increased activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, areas near/along the intraparietal sulcus (IPS), ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate/precuneus regions. However, the BPD group showed less BOLD signal change in dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and IPS, less deactivation in the amygdala and greater activation in the superior temporal sulcus and superior frontal gyrus.
BPD and HC subjects display different neural dynamics while passively viewing social emotional stimuli. In addition, BPD patients do not engage the cognitive control regions to the extent that HC’s do when employing a distancing strategy to regulate emotional reactions, which may be a factor contributing to the affective instability of BPD.