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Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2006;30(4):511-25. Epub 2005 Nov 9.

The neurobiological basis of temperament: towards a better understanding of psychopathology.

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ORYGEN Research Centre, University of Melbourne, Vic. 3052, Australia.


The ability to characterise psychopathologies on the basis of their underlying neurobiology is critical in improving our understanding of disorder etiology and making more effective diagnostic and treatment decisions. Given the well-documented relationship between temperament (i.e. core personality traits) and psychopathology, research investigating the neurobiological substrates that underlie temperament is potentially key to our understanding of the biological basis of mental disorder. We present evidence that specific areas of the prefrontal cortex (including the dorsolateral prefrontal, anterior cingulate, and orbitofrontal cortices) and limbic structures (including the amygdala, hippocampus and nucleus accumbens) are key regions associated with three fundamental dimensions of temperament: Negative Affect, Positive Affect, and Constraint. Proposed relationships are based on two types of research: (a) research into the neurobiological correlates of affective and cognitive processes underlying these dimensions; and (b) research into the neurobiology of various psychopathologies, which have been correlated with these dimensions. A model is proposed detailing how these structures might comprise neural networks whose functioning underlies the three temperaments. Recommendations are made for future research into the neurobiology of temperament, including the need to focus on neural networks rather than individual structures, and the importance of prospective, longitudinal, multi-modal imaging studies in at-risk youth.

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