Familial factors and the risk of borderline personality pathology: Genetic and environmental transmission

Haya Fatimah, Brenton M. Wiernik, Claire Gorey, Matt McGue, William G. Iacono, Marina A. Bornovalova

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Parental characteristics and practices predict borderline personality disorder (BPD) symptoms in children. However, it is difficult to disentangle whether these effects are genetically or environmentally mediated. The present study examines the contributions of genetic and environmental influences by comparing the effects of familial risk factors (i.e. parental psychopathology and borderline traits, maladaptive parenting, marital discord) on child BPD traits in genetically related (biological) and non-related (adoptive) families.

METHODS: Data are from 409 adoptive and 208 biological families who participated in the Siblings Interaction and Behavior Study (SIBS) and 580 twin families the Minnesota Twin Family Study (MTFS). Parent characteristics and practices included parental psychopathology (measured via structured clinical interviews), parental BPD traits, parenting behaviors, and marital discord. A series of multi-level regression models were estimated to examine the relationship of familial risk factors to child BPD traits and to test whether children's adoptive status moderated the association.

RESULTS: Symptom counts of parents' conduct disorder, adult antisocial behavior, nicotine, alcohol, and illicit drug dependence, and paternal BPD traits substantially predicted child BPD traits only in biological offspring, implying genetic transmission. Maternal BPD traits and both maternal and paternal conflict, lack of regard, and lack of involvement predicted offspring BPD traits regardless of the adoptive status, implying environmental transmission.

CONCLUSIONS: Parental externalizing psychopathology and father's BPD traits contribute genetic risk for offspring BPD traits, but mothers' BPD traits and parents' poor parenting constitute environmental risks for the development of these offspring traits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1327-1337
Number of pages11
JournalPsychological medicine
Issue number8
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Financial support. Data for this project were collected at the University of Minnesota. This work was supported by National Institute on Drug Abuse Grant DA 05147, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Grants AA09367 and AA015621, and the National Institute on Mental Health MH066140-10.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019.


  • Adoptive designs
  • borderline personality disorder
  • externalizing psychopathology
  • familial transmission
  • internalizing psychopathology
  • passive gene-environment correlation

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Twin Study


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