Psychological Medicine

Original Articles

Heritability of borderline personality disorder features is similar across three countries

M. A. Distela1 c1, T. J. Trulla2, C. A. Deroma3, E. W. Thierya4, M. A. Grimmera5, N. G. Martina5, G. Willemsena1 and D. I. Boomsmaa1

a1 Department of Biological Psychology, VU University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

a2 Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, MO, USA

a3 Department of Human Genetics, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Leuven, Belgium

a4 Association for Scientific Research in Multiple Births, Gent, Belgium

a5 Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Brisbane, Australia


Background Most of our knowledge about borderline personality disorder features has been obtained through the study of clinical samples. Although these studies are important in their own right, they are limited in their ability to address certain important epidemiological and aetiological questions such as the degree to which there is a genetic influence on the manifestation of borderline personality disorder features. Though family history studies of borderline personality disorder indicate genetic influences, there have been very few twin studies and the degree of genetic influence on borderline personality disorder remains unclear.

Method Data were drawn from twin samples from The Netherlands (n=3918), Belgium (n=904) and Australia (n=674). In total, data were available on 5496 twins between the ages of 18 and 86 years from 3644 families who participated in the study by completion of a mailed self-report questionnaire on borderline personality disorder features.

Results In all countries, females scored higher than males and there was a general tendency for younger adults to endorse more borderline personality disorder features than older adults. Model-fitting results showed that additive genetic influences explain 42% of the variation in borderline personality disorder features in both men and women and that this heritability estimate is similar across The Netherlands, Belgium and Australia. Unique environmental influences explain the remaining 58% of the variance.

Conclusion Genetic factors play a role in individual differences in borderline personality disorder features in Western society.

(Received April 17 2007)

(Revised August 21 2007)

(Accepted September 08 2007)

(Online publication November 08 2007)


c1 Address for correspondence: M. A. Distel, M.Sc., VU University Amsterdam, Department of Biological Psychology, van der Boechorststraat 1, 1081 BT Amsterdam, The Netherlands. (Email: