Development and Psychopathology

Special Issue: Developmental Psychopathology Approaches to Borderline Personality Disorder

Developmental psychopathology and neurobiology of aggression

JACKIE K.  GOLLAN  a1 c1 , ROYCE  LEE  a1 and EMIL F.  COCCARO  a1
a1 University of Chicago

Article author query
gollan jk   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
lee r   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
coccaro ef   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 


The aim of this paper is to clarify how neural mechanisms at the molecular level, specifically the serotonergic (5-HT) system and the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis system (HPA) in conjunction with early life stress may contribute to the emergence of aggression, self-directed and otherwise, in borderline personality disorder (BPD). Chronic dysregulation of these biological systems, which function to regulate stress and emotion, may potentiate the development of impulsive aggression in borderline personality conditions. Our central premise in this paper is that brain development, stress regulation, and early pathonomic experience are interactive and cumulative in their mutual influence on the development of impulsive aggression in BPD. We review the parameters of impulsive aggression in BPD, followed by a discussion of the neurobiological and neuroendocrine correlates of impulsive aggression with and without BPD. We then focus on the developmental continuities in BPD with attention to brain maturation of 5-HT and HPA axis function during the life span and the influence of early adverse experiences on these systems. Finally, we comment on the data of the relative stability of aggression in BPD, adolescence as a developmental stage of potential vulnerability, and the course of aggressive behavior during the life span. a

c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Jackie Gollan, Clinical Neuroscience and Psychopharmacology Research Unit, Department of Psychiatry, 5841 South Maryland Avenue, MC 3077, Chicago, IL 60637; E-mail:


a The authors thank Caroline Cozza, Michael McCloskey, and Kurt Knoblett for their comments during the preparation of this manuscript. This research was supported by research funding from the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (J.K.G.), Grant MH066888-01 (R.L.), and the Borderline Personality Disorder Research Foundation (E.F.C.).