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Gray Matter Irregularities in Mental Illness

Posted Oct 30 2008 2:11pm

Borderline Personality Disorder, Mood Disorders & Anxiety Linked through Structure and Function

Borderline Personality Disorder , as explained in Wikipedia, “is a psychiatric diagnosis describing a prolonged disturbance of personality function characterized by depth and variability of moods. BPD typically involves unusual levels of instability in mood; “black and white” thinking; chaotic and unstable interpersonal relationships, self-image, identity, and behavior; as well as a disturbance in the individual’s sense of self. In extreme cases, this disturbance in the sense of self can lead to periods of dissociation. These disturbances can have a pervasive negative impact on many or all of the psychosocial facets of life. This includes difficulties maintaining relationships in work, home, and social settings. Attempted suicide and completed suicide are possible outcomes, especially without proper care and effective therapy. Onset of symptoms typically occurs during adolescence or young adulthood. Symptoms may persist for several years, but the majority of symptoms lessen in severity over time, with some individuals fully recovering. The mainstay of treatment is various forms of psychotherapy, although medication and other approaches may also improve symptoms.”

Michael Minzenberg, M.D., of the University of California, Davis, and NIMH grantees Antonia S. New, M.D., and Larry J. Siever, M.D., of Mount Sinai School of Medicine reviewed MRI images of patients diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, and found that they experience differences in the working tissue of the brain, called grey matter.

According to the groups research, people with BPD had more than the average amount of gray matter in a fear hub found deep in the human brain. On images, this area over-activated when the patients viewed scary faces.

Interestingly, these same patients had less gray matter and less activity in the hub’s regulator near the front of the brain. These deficiencies effectively removed the normally built-in controls for a runaway fear response, leading to overreaction.

These imaging studies conducted by Minzenberg, New, and Siever are the first to link structural brain differences with functional impairment in the same sample of BPD patients; and their findings impart significance to millions of other patients since similar changes in the same areas of the brain have been documented in mood and anxiety disorders. As the research evolves, it seems clear that there are numerous shared and common mechanisms with mental illnesses that have traditionally been viewed from a biological perspective.

Click here to view “The Neurobiology and Genetics of Borderline Personality Disorder” written by Antonia S. New, MD & Larry J. Siever MD.

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