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Zaehringer, Jenny; Ende, Gabriele; Santangelo, Philip; Kleindienst, Nikolaus; Ruf, Matthias; Bertsch, Katja; Bohus, Martin; Schmahl, Christian; Paret, Christian (2019): Improved emotion regulation after neurofeedback: A single-arm trial in patients with borderline personality disorder. In: Neuroimage-Clinical, Vol. 24, 102032
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Abstract

Real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) neurofeedback training of amygdala hemodynamic activity directly targets a neurobiological mechanism, which contributes to emotion regulation problems in borderline personality disorder (BPD). However, it remains unknown which outcome measures can assess changes in emotion regulation and affective instability, associated with amygdala downregulation in a clinical trial. The current study directly addresses this question. Twenty-four female patients with a DSM-IV BPD diagnosis underwent four runs of amygdala neurofeedback. Before and after the training, as well as at a six-weeks follow-up assessment, participants completed measures of emotion dysregulation and affective instability at diverse levels of analysis (verbal report, clinical interview, ecological momentary assessment, emotion-modulated startle, heart rate variability, and fMRI). Participants were able to downregulate their amygdala blood oxygen-dependent (BOLD) response with neurofeedback. There was a decrease of BPD symptoms as assessed with the Zanarini rating scale for BPD (ZAN-BPD) and a decrease in emotion-modulated startle to negative pictures after training. Further explorative analyses suggest that patients indicated less affective instability, as seen by lower hour-to-hour variability in negative affect and inner tension in daily life. If replicated by an independent study, our results imply changes in emotion regulation and affective instability for several systems levels, including behavior and verbal report. Conclusions are limited due to the lack of a control group. A randomized controlled trial (RCT) will be needed to confirm effectiveness of the training.