Borderline Personality Disorder,  Emotions

Brain Scans Clarify Borderline Personality Disorder

Using real-time brain imaging, a team of researchers have discovered that patients with Borderline Personality

Brain Scans and BPD

Disorder (BPD) are physically unable to regulate emotion.

Brain Scans Clarify Borderline Personality Disorder (link)

By Rick Nauert PhD Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on September 4, 2009

Using real-time brain imaging, a team of researchers have discovered that patients with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) are physically unable to regulate emotion.

The findings, by Harold W. Koenigsberg, MD, professor of psychiatry at Mount Sinai School of Medicine suggest individuals with BPD are unable activate neurological networks that would help to control feelings.

The research will be published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers viewed how the brains of people with BPD reacted to social and emotional stimuli.

Koenigsberg found that when people with BPD attempted to control and reduce their reactions to disturbing emotional scenes, the anterior cingulate cortex and intraparetical sulci areas of the brain that are active in healthy people under the same conditions remained inactive in the BPD patients.

“This research shows that BPD patients are not able to use those parts of the brain that healthy people use to help regulate their emotions,” said Dr. Koenigsberg.

“This may explain why their emotional reactions are so extreme. The biological underpinnings of the disordered emotional control systems are central to borderline pathology. Studying which areas of the brain function differently in patients with borderline personality disorder can lead to more targeted uses of psychotherapy and medications, and also provide a link to connect the genetic basis of the disorder.”

According to background information in the article, borderline personality disorder is a common condition, affecting up to two percent of all adults in the United States, mostly women.

Characteristics of BPD include being so emotionally overreactive that they suffer alternating bouts of depression, anxiety and anger, are interpersonally hypersensitive, and are impelled to self-destructive and even suicidal behavior.

Patients with BPD often exhibit other types of impulsive behaviors, including excessive spending, binge eating and risky sex. BPD often occurs together with other psychiatric problems, particularly bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and other personality disorders.

The disorder is found in 10 to 20 percent of people in psychiatric care, and about 10 percent of people with this condition ultimately die of suicide. Only recently have researchers begun to identify underlying biological factors associated with the condition.

Source: The Mount Sinai Medical Center

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2009). Brain Scans Clarify Borderline Personality Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 9, 2012, from


  • Joe Schmoe


    Questions upon reading this:
    1.)I wonder if the same is true with folks who are diagnosed with PTSD.
    2.)I also wonder what an fMRI would tell us about someone who claims to have recovered from BPD or is considered cured. What would it reveal? Would it show us a change or would it deliver the same results? Would it point towards a condition that remains the same for life or not?

    Thanks for posting this.

  • Bon Dobbs

    I believe there was a study in Germany that showed that intensive in-patient DBT actually modified brain function in people with BPD. I’ll have to try and dig that one up.

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