Neural correlates of social exclusion and overinclusion in patients with borderline personality disorder: an fMRI study

Látalová A, Radimecká M, Lamoš M, Jáni M, Damborská A, Theiner P, Bartečková E, Bartys P, Vlčková H, Školiaková K, Kašpárek T, Linhartová P.

Borderline Personal Disord Emot Dysregul. 2023 Dec 1;10(1):35. doi: 10.1186/s40479-023-00240-1. PMID: 38037120; PMCID:PMC10691118.


18 Jan 2024

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Background: Interpersonal difficulties of patients with borderline personality disorder (BPD) are closely related to rejection sensitivity. The aim of the present study was to gain further insight into the experience and cerebral processing of social interactions in patients with BPD by using fMRI during experimentally induced experiences of social exclusion, inclusion, and overinclusion.

Methods: The study involved 30 participants diagnosed with BPD (29 female and 1 male; age: M = 24.22, SD = 5.22) and 30 healthy controls (29 female and 1 male; age: M = 24.66, SD = 5.28) with no current or lifetime psychiatric diagnoses. In the fMRI session, all participants were asked to complete a Cyberball task that consisted of an alternating sequence of inclusion, exclusion, and overinclusion conditions.

Results: Compared to healthy controls, participants with BPD reported higher levels of inner tension and more unpleasant emotions across all experimental conditions. At the neural level, the participants with BPD showed lower recruitment of the left hippocampus in response to social exclusion (relative to the inclusion condition) than the healthy controls did. Lower recruitment of the left hippocampus in this contrast was associated with childhood maltreatment in patients with BPD. However, this difference was no longer significant when we added the covariate of hippocampal volume to the analysis. During social overinclusion (relative to the inclusion condition), we observed no significant differences in a group comparison of neural activation.

Conclusions: The results of our study suggest that patients with BPD experience more discomfort than do healthy controls during social interactions. Compared to healthy participants, patients with BPD reported more inner tension and unpleasant emotions, irrespective of the extent to which others included them in social interactions. At a neural level, the participants with BPD showed a lower recruitment of the left hippocampus in response to social exclusion than the healthy controls did. The reduced activation of this neural structure could be related to a history of childhood maltreatment and smaller hippocampal volume in patients with BPD.

Keywords: Borderline personality disorder; Cyberball paradigm; Rejection sensitivity; Social exclusion; Social overinclusion; fMRI.

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