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Front Hum Neurosci. 2013 Mar 1;7:54. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00054. eCollection 2013.

Trait anxiety modulates fronto-limbic processing of emotional interference in borderline personality disorder.

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1
Department of Psychiatry, Campus Mitte, Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin Berlin, Germany ; Campus Benjamin Franklin, Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin Berlin, Germany ; Department of Education and Psychology, Freie Universität Berlin Berlin, Germany.

Abstract

Previous studies of cognitive alterations in borderline personality disorder (BPD) have yielded conflicting results. Given that a core feature of BPD is affective instability, which is characterized by emotional hyperreactivity and deficits in emotion regulation, it seems conceivable that short-lasting emotional distress might exert temporary detrimental effects on cognitive performance. Here we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate how task-irrelevant emotional stimuli (fearful faces) affect performance and fronto-limbic neural activity patterns during attention-demanding cognitive processing in 16 female, unmedicated BPD patients relative to 24 age-matched healthy controls. In a modified flanker task, emotionally negative, socially salient pictures (fearful vs. neutral faces) were presented as distracters in the background. Patients, but not controls, showed an atypical response pattern of the right amygdala with increased activation during emotional interference in the (difficult) incongruent flanker condition, but emotion-related amygdala deactivation in the congruent condition. A direct comparison of the emotional conditions between the two groups revealed that the strongest diagnosis-related differences could be observed in the dorsal and, to a lesser extent, also in the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (dACC, rACC) where patients exhibited an increased neural response to emotional relative to neutral distracters. Moreover, in the incongruent condition, both the dACC and rACC fMRI responses during emotional interference were negatively correlated with trait anxiety in the patients, but not in the healthy controls. As higher trait anxiety was also associated with longer reaction times (RTs) in the BPD patients, we suggest that in BPD patients the ACC might mediate compensatory cognitive processes during emotional interference and that such neurocognitive compensation that can be adversely affected by high levels of anxiety.

KEYWORDS:

amygdala; anterior cingulate cortex; anxiety; borderline personality disorder; cognition-emotion interaction; fMRI

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