Mount Sinai Research Identifies Brain Mechanisms Associated with Borderline Personality Disorder

Through real-time imaging, researchers have collected evidence to suggest that neurological networks that help regulate emotion do not activate in patients with borderline personality disorder.

New York, NY
 – September 3, 2009 /Press Release/  –– 

Mount Sinai researchers have found that real-time brain imaging suggests that patients with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) are physically unable to activate neurological networks that can help regulate emotion. The findings, by Harold W. Koenigsberg, MD, Professor of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, were presented at the 11th International Congress of the International Society for the Study of Personality Disorders (ISSPD), held August 21 – 23 at The Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. The research will also be published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), Dr. Koenigsberg observed how the brains of people with BPD reacted to social and emotional stimuli. He found that when people with BPD attempted to control and reduce their reactions to disturbing emotional scenes, the anterior cingulated 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."

 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 over-reactive 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.

Gene function and serotonin levels may also be contributing factors in BPD, according to research findings also presented at the ISSPD Congress by Larry Siever, MD, Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Special Evaluation Program for Mood and Personality Disorders at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Dr. Siever’s research demonstrates how genes related to serotonin and neuropeptides in the brain may be altered in serious personality disorders such as BPD.

Dr. Siever’s neuroimaging research suggests that a gene that controls production of a critical enzyme for the synthesis of serotonin, a brain chemical that modulates emotions and aggression, may be altered leading to reduced synthesis of serotonin in people with BPD and may be associated with increased aggression. This variant of gene may also be associated with reduced frontal lobe activation in the brain.

These studies were part of the 11th International Congress of the International Society for the Study of Personality Disorders, which took place August 21 – 23 at The Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. More information about the Congress can be found at

About The Mount Sinai Medical Center
The Mount Sinai Medical Center encompasses The Mount Sinai Hospital and Mount Sinai School of Medicine. The Mount Sinai Hospital is one of the nation’s oldest, largest and most-respected voluntary hospitals. Founded in 1852, Mount Sinai today is a 1,171-bed tertiary-care teaching facility that is internationally acclaimed for excellence in clinical care. Last year, nearly 50,000 people were treated at Mount Sinai as inpatients, and there were nearly 450,000 outpatient visits to the Medical Center.

Mount Sinai School of Medicine is internationally recognized as a leader in groundbreaking clinical and basic-science research, as well as having an innovative approach to medical education. With a faculty of more than 3,400 in 38 clinical and basic science departments and centers, Mount Sinai ranks among the top 20 medical schools in receipt of National Institute of Health (NIH) grants.