Neurology Central

Specialized psychotherapy associated with alterations in brain activity in borderline personality disorder

New research from Binghamton University (NY, USA) has highlighted the potential physiological effects of transference-focused psychotherapy (TFP). The findings were published recently in Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences.

The pilot study comprised a cohort of ten female patients with borderline personality disorder (BPD) recruited from New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical College (NY, USA). The subjects were treated for 1 year with TFP – a treatment proven to reduce symptoms in BPD.

Utilizing a disorder-specific emotional–linguistic functional MRI method for measuring treatment-related effects on the brain, researchers observed relative activation increases in cognitive control areas and relative decreases in areas associated with emotional reactivity.

“These results advance our currently limited understanding of neural mechanisms associated with psychodynamically oriented psychotherapy,” remarked the researchers. “Activation in [certain parts of the brain]was associated with improvements in behavioral constraint, emotional regulation and/or aggression in patients with BPD.”

Although further confirmatory research is required to reinforce these preliminary results, the current study points to TFP-associated changes in the brain, changes that may be helpful in identifying the neural mechanisms underlying the observed clinical improvements in BPD following treatment.

“These findings represent the genuine frontier of clinical science in understanding the effects of psychotherapy,” commented Mark Lenzenweger (Binghamton University, NY, USA). “Think of it – talk therapy that impacts neural or brain functioning.”

Sources: Binghamton University press release; Perez DL, Vago DR, Pan H et al. Frontolimbic neural circuit changes in emotional processing and inhibitory control associated with clinical improvement following transference-focused psychotherapy in borderline personality disorder. Psychiatr. Clin. Neurosci. doi:10.1111/pcn.12357 (2015) (Epub ahead of print).