1 Results of the first funding period
To investigate the influence of tissue damage in the context of non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI), we first characterized nociceptive non-invasive stimuli and a mechanical stimulus associated with tissue injury (incision). Twenty healthy men and women each were investigated regarding pain intensity and affective/sensory characteristics of the stimuli. Affective scores were significantly lower than sensory scores for all modalities, including the incision. In women, affective scores were not different for blade, laser and incision stimuli. In a second step, a non-invasive mechanical “blade” stimulus was matched by means of pain intensity with the
incision stimulus. Comparing time courses of blade and incision pain, the time course including the pain maximum was very similar (point-by-point comparison between p=0.8 and 1.0). In the ongoing second study, we were successful to induce stress in all groups (current BPD, remitted BPD, healthy controls), verified by significant increase of inner tension and heart rate. An interim analysis of the effects of incision, blade and sham treatment on stress levels in current BPD patients revealed a trend for stronger tension reduction following incision as compared to sham. A similar time course of tension reduction was observed following blade application which appears to be comparably successful to incision in reducing tension. Perception of mechanical pain was lower on both arms in current BPD patients compared to controls,
as a sign of generalized hypoalgesia in these patients. Additionally conducted pilot studies investigated the influence of seeing artificial blood together with a pain stimulus on tension reduction and established MR spectroscopy to quantify glutamate and GABA levels in pain-processing brain regions.
2 New questions and work schedule Since the blade stimulus appears to have similar affective pain properties as well as similar influence on tension reduction, it will be used in the studies of the next funding period. The new project has two major objectives. First, we aim to further elucidate mechanisms related to reduced pain sensitivity in BPD using recently established neuroimaging methods. In the second part of the project, we will further disentangle mechanisms related to NSSI with a particular focus on the role of seeing blood and the perspective of the injury (self- vs. other-inflicted) regarding stress reduction. In the first part, we will acquire structural MRIs at 3T and assess morphological group differences in amygdala,
anterior cingulate, anterior and posterior insula, and DLPFC as well as volumetric connectivity between these regions in 25 patients with current BPD and 25 healthy controls. Quantitative MRS measures of GABA and glutamate levels will be obtained from the insula and ACC, the glutamate/GABA ratio will be compared between groups, and the association of morphological differences with neurochemical alterations will be
investigated. Pseudo-continuous arterial spin labelling (pCASL), which allows absolute quantification of blood flow in pain-processing regions following single stimuli, will be conducted before and after blade stimulation. In the second part, patients with current NSSI will be randomized into four groups of 25 patients each (a)
blood, self-inflicted; b)blood, other-inflicted; c) no blood, self-inflicted; d) no blood, other-inflicted). For each patient, an individual stressful script will be prepared and presented while stress levels, and heart rate is 16 monitored. Immediately after the end of the script, the blade stimulus will be applied, either in conjunction with artificial blood or without and either self-inflicted or inflicted by the investigator.
The third part is an ambulatory assessment study in which BPD patients carry mobile devices in combination with sensors for physiological signals such as heart rate. Here, we aim to monitor the natural time course of NSSI events in the daily life of BPD patients. Patients will regularly enter their level of subjective stress. In
case of NSSI events, stress levels will be prompted more frequently; in addition, painfulness of the NSSI event as well as during the following time period will be closely monitored.