Impulsive aggression is associated with central serotonergic dysfunction. Animal models particularly implicate the 5-HT1A receptor in this behavior. We tested the hypothesis that central 5-HT1A receptor function is impaired in impulsive aggressive personality disorder patients. A total of 52 individuals with DSM-III-R personality disorders, all medically healthy adult outpatients without concurrent psychiatric medication treatment, underwent serial plasma cortisol, prolactin, and temperature measurements before and after ipsapirone 20 mg oral administration. Subjects completed self-report measures of impulsivity, hostility, depression and anxiety, and childhood maltreatment. Stepwise regression analysis revealed impulsivity alone among symptom measures to be associated with significantly decreased peak cortisol and prolactin responses. Diagnoses of borderline personality disorder (BPD) and intermittent explosive disorder-revised (IED-R) were associated with significantly increased and decreased cortisol responses, respectively. However, post hoc analyses indicated that impulsivity was significantly negatively correlated with cortisol responses in the BPD group, and may mediate the association of both BPD and IED-R with altered cortisol responses. Temperature response was associated with neither diagnostic nor symptom measures. Neither diagnostic nor dimensional measures of depression or anxiety, nor severity of childhood maltreatment, were significantly associated with cortisol, prolactin, or temperature responses. Impulsivity is related to impaired function at (or downstream to) postsynaptic 5-HT1A receptors, and this relationship may be partly responsible for the association of impaired serotonergic function with diagnoses such as BPD and IED-R. In addition, D2 receptor dysfunction may play a role in impulsivity, whereas 5-HT1A cell-body autoreceptor function may be spared in these disorders.
- Borderline personality disorder
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