Disorder-specific white matter alterations in adolescent borderline personality disorder

Klaus H. Maier-Hein, Romuald Brunner, Kira Lutz, Romy Henze, Peter Parzer, Nina Feigl, Jasmin Kramer, Hans Peter Meinzer, Franz Resch, Bram Stieltjes

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    37 Scopus citations


    Background The pathogenesis of borderline personality disorder (BPD) is complex and not fully understood. Using diffusion tensor imaging, recent studies suggest that white matter abnormalities may occur in adult patients with BPD. However, deeper insight into the disorder-specific developmental psychobiology (e.g., analysis of adolescents with BPD; inclusion of clinical control groups) is missing. Methods Twenty adolescent patients with BPD (aged 14-18 years), 20 healthy, and 20 clinical control subjects were assessed using diffusion tensor imaging. All subjects were right-handed girls, matched for age and IQ. Microstructural parameters were analyzed via tractography of the main bundles in the limbic system and using Tract-Based Spatial Statistics, an explorative, global approach. Results BPD was associated with decreased fractional anisotropy in the fornix when compared with clinical (p <.001) or healthy (nonsignificant trend) control subjects. Using Tract-Based Spatial Statistics, significant disorder-specific white matter alterations were found in the long association bundles interconnecting the heteromodal association cortex and in connections between the thalamus and hippocampus. Conclusions The study strongly supports the hypothesis that white matter alterations play a key role in the pathogenesis of BPD. These disorder-specific alterations include white matter pathways involved in emotion regulation but also affect parts of the heteromodal association cortex that are related to emotion recognition. Our findings unify previously documented deficits in emotion recognition and regulation and suggest that a large-scale network of emotion processing is disrupted in BPD. Continued research is essential to evaluate the predictive value of these early disruptions in a clinical context.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)81-88
    Number of pages8
    JournalBiological Psychiatry
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Jan 1 2014


    • Connectivity
    • Tract-Based Spatial Statistics (TBSS)
    • diffusion tensor imaging
    • diffusion-weighted imaging
    • heteromodal association cortex
    • tractography

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Biological Psychiatry

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    Maier-Hein, K. H., Brunner, R., Lutz, K., Henze, R., Parzer, P., Feigl, N., Kramer, J., Meinzer, H. P., Resch, F., & Stieltjes, B. (2014). Disorder-specific white matter alterations in adolescent borderline personality disorder. Biological Psychiatry, 75(1), 81-88. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2013.03.031