Resting-state functional connectivity of neurotransmitter producing sites in female patients with borderline personality disorder

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Impulsive behavior, difficulties in controlling anger and suicidal behavior are typical patterns of affective/behavioral dysregulation in patients with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Previous functional MRI studies in the resting state condition demonstrated altered functional connectivity (FC) between the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the frontoparietal executive control network (ECN), which was significantly associated with impulsivity in BPD. Impulsivity is often defined as a function of inhibitory control, strongly relying on the proper functioning of the fronto-cingulo-striatal network. Noradrenergic, dopaminergic and serotonergic neurotransmitter systems are assumed to be involved in different forms of impulsive behavior and inhibitory control. In our previous study, we investigated the FC of the main monoamine-producing nuclei within the midbrain and brainstem, which were functionally integrated in specific resting-state networks. In the present study we investigated the resting-state FC of midbrain/brainstem nuclei in 33 unmedicated female patients with BPD and 33 matched healthy controls. We further related altered functional connectivity of these nuclei to the patient's degree of impulsivity. The main finding was that BPD patients showed stronger FC from the noradrenergic locus coeruleus (LC) to the ACC. Functional connectivity between the LC and ACC was positively associated with the degree of motor impulsivity in the total group. Controlling for aggression, a stronger FC was also found between serotonergic nucleus centralis superior (NCS) and the frontopolar cortex (FPC) in patients compared to controls. Furthermore, patients showed a weaker “anti-correlation” from the substantia nigra (SNc) to the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). The observed enhanced LC-ACC FC in BPD and its association with the motor impulsivity might be indicative of a noradrenergic dysfunction in the neural inhibitory control network, whereas the significant relationship between NCS-FPC FC and aggression points toward serotonergic contribution to prefrontal control of aggressive reactions.

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