Conceptualizing the neurobiology of non-suicidal self-injury from the perspective of the Research Domain Criteria Project

Melinda Westlund Schreiner, Bonnie Klimes-Dougan, Erin D. Begnel, Kathryn R. Cullen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) commonly starts in adolescence and is associated with an array of negative outcomes. Neurobiological research investigating NSSI is in its early stages and most studies have examined this behavior within the context of specific diagnoses. However, the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) initiative encourages researchers to examine brain-behavior relationships across diagnoses. This review on the neurobiology associated with NSSI is organized using the domains proposed by RDoC: Negative Valence, Positive Valence, Cognitive, Social Processes, and Arousal/Regulatory Systems. Evidence of neurobiological anomalies is found in each of these domains. We also propose future research directions, especially in regard to human development. Future NSSI studies should address this behavior independent of diagnosis, examine relevant constructs across multiple units of analysis, and assess how systems change across development and course of illness. These advances will be essential for guiding neurobiologically informed intervention and prevention strategies to target NSSI. In doing so, we may prevent the associated negative outcomes across the lifespan.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)381-391
Number of pages11
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
StatePublished - Oct 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Dr. Cullen's time for contributing to this review was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health K23-MH090421 .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier Ltd.


  • Neurobiology
  • Neuroimaging
  • Non-suicidal self injury
  • RDoC


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