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J Pers Disord. 2008 Feb;22(1):42-71. doi: 10.1521/pedi.2008.22.1.42.

Toward a genetically-informed model of borderline personality disorder.

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Department of Psychiatry, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.


This article describes a conceptual framework for describing borderline personality disorder (BPD) based on empirical studies of the phenotypic structure and genetic architecture of personality. The proposed phenotype has 2 components: (1) a description of core self and interpersonal pathology-the defining features of personality disorder-as these features are expressed in the disorder; and (2) a set of traits based on the anxious-dependent or emotional dysregulation factor of the four-factor model of PD. Four kinds of traits are described: emotional (anxiousness, emotional reactivity, emotional intensity, and pessimistic-anhedonia), interpersonal (submissiveness, insecure attachment, social apprehensiveness, and need for approval), cognitive (cognitive dysregulation), and self-harm (behaviors and ideas). Formulation of the phenotype was guided by the conceptualization of personality as a system of interrelated sub-systems. The psychopathology associated with BPD involves most components of the system. The trait structure of the disorder is assumed to reflect the genetic architecture of personality and individual traits are assumed to be based on adaptive mechanisms. It is suggested that borderline traits are organized around the trait of anxiousness and that an important feature of BPD is dysregulation of the threat management system leading to pervasive fearfulness and unstable emotions. The interpersonal traits are assumed to be heritable characteristics that evolved to deal with interpersonal threats that arose as a result of social living. The potential for unstable and conflicted interpersonal relationships that is inherent to the disorder is assumed to result from the interplay between the adaptive structure of personality and psychosocial adversity. The etiology of the disorder is discussed in terms of biological and environmental factors associated with each component of the phenotype.

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