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Genetic Link to Borderline Personality Disorder

While sometimes under the radar screen, borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a condition more common than schizophrenia or bipolar disorder and is estimated to affect 2 percent of the population.

In a new study, a University of Missouri researcher and Dutch team of research collaborators found that genetic material on chromosome nine was linked to BPD features.

Borderline personality disorder is a disorder characterized by pervasive instability in moods, interpersonal relationships, self-image and behavior. When left untreated, BPD can lead to suicidal thoughts and behavior, substance or alcohol abuse, and failed relationships (both interpersonal and family).

“The results of this study hopefully will bring researchers closer to determining the genetic causes of BPD and may have important implications for treatment programs in the future,” said Timothy Trull, professor of psychology in the MU College of Arts and Science.

“Localizing and identifying the genes that influence the development of BPD will not only be important for scientific purposes, but will also have clinical implications.”

In an ongoing study of the health and lifestyles of families with twins in the Netherlands, Trull and colleagues examined 711 pairs of siblings and 561 parents to identify the location of genetic traits that influences the manifestation of BPD.

The researchers conducted a genetic linkage analysis of the families and identified chromosomal regions that could contain genes that influence the development of BPD. Trull found the strongest evidence for a genetic influence on BPD features on chromosome nine.

In a previous study, Trull and research colleagues examined data from 5,496 twins in the Netherlands, Belgium and Australia to assess the extent of genetic influence on the manifestation of BPD features.

The research team found that 42 percent of variation in BPD features was attributable to genetic influences and 58 percent was attributable to environmental influences, and this was consistent across the three countries. In addition, Trull and colleagues found that there was no significant difference in heritability rates between men and women, and that young adults displayed more BPD features then older adults.

“We were able to provide precise estimates of the genetic influence on BPD features, test for differences between the sexes, and determine if our estimates were consistent across three different countries,” Trull said.

“Our results suggest that genetic factors play a major role in individual differences of borderline personality disorder features in Western society.”

Trull’s study, “Chromosome 9: linkage for borderline personality disorder” was recently published in Psychiatic Genetics and “Heritability of borderline personality disorder features is similar across three countries” was published in Psychological Medicine.

Borderline personality disorder usually is first diagnosed in early adulthood, typically in a person’s 20s or early 30s. People with BPD have an intense fear of abandonment, a pattern of unstable and intense relationships, changes in self-identity and self-image, and regularly engage in risky and impulsive behavior. They are also prone to threats of suicidal or self-injury behavior, especially in reaction to the idea of rejection or being left by someone else. Mood swings are also common for people with this disorder.

Source: University of Missouri

Genetic Link to Borderline Personality Disorder

This article has been updated from the original version, which was originally published here on December 17, 2008.

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2019). Genetic Link to Borderline Personality Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 3 May 2019 (Originally: 17 Dec 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 3 May 2019
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