The Dark Path to Antisocial Personality Disorder

A new study in Biological Psychiatry

Philadelphia, PA, February 7, 2012 – With no lab tests to guide the clinician, psychiatric diagnostics is challenging and controversial. Antisocial personality disorder is defined as “a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood,” according to the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) of the American Psychiatric Association.

DSM-IV provides formal diagnostic criteria for every psychiatric disorder. This process may be guided by rating scales that measure the traits and features associated with a personality disorder. But, until now, no one has studied the dimensional structure associated with the DSM antisocial personality disorder criteria. 

Dr. Kenneth Kendler of Virginia Commonwealth University and colleagues examined questionnaire and genetic data from adult twins. They found that the DSM-IV criteria do not reflect a single dimension of liability but rather are influenced by two dimensions of genetic risk reflecting aggressive-disregard and disinhibition.

“When psychiatrists, as clinicians or researchers, think about our psychiatric disorders, we tend to think of them as one thing – one kind of disorder – a reflection of one underlying dimension of liability,” said Dr. Kendler. “This is also true of genetics researchers. We tend to want to identify and then detect ‘the’ risk genes underlying disorder X or Y.”

Kendler added, “What is most interesting about the results of this paper is that they falsify this inherent and rather deeply held assumption. Genetic risk factors for antisocial personality disorder are not one thing. Rather, the disorder, as conceptualized by DSM-IV, reflects two distinct genetic dimensions of risk.”

“The findings from this study make sense. The distinction between the two sets of heritable traits contributing to antisocial personality disorder, aggressive-disregard and disinhibition, highlights the complexity of unraveling the genes contributing to this personality style. We now have some puzzle pieces, but we have a long way to go to fit these pieces together,” commented Dr. John Krystal, editor of Biological Psychiatry.

The article is “A Multivariate Twin Study of the DSM-IV Criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder” by Kenneth S. Kendler, Steven H. Aggen, and Christopher J. Patrick (doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2011.05.019). The article appears in Biological Psychiatry, Volume 71, Issue 3 (February 1, 2012), published by Elsevier.

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Notes for editors
Full text of the article is available to credentialed journalists upon request; contact Rhiannon Bugno at +1 214 648 0880 or Biol.Psych@utsouthwestern.edu. Journalists wishing to interview the authors may contact Sathya Achia Abraham at sbachia@vcu.edu.

The authors’ affiliations, and disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available in the article.

John H. Krystal, M.D., is Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine and a research psychiatrist at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System. His disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available here.

About Biological Psychiatry
Biological Psychiatry is the official journal of the Society of Biological Psychiatry, whose purpose is to promote excellence in scientific research and education in fields that investigate the nature, causes, mechanisms and treatments of disorders of thought, emotion, or behavior. In accord with this mission, this peer-reviewed, rapid-publication, international journal publishes both basic and clinical contributions from all disciplines and research areas relevant to the pathophysiology and treatment of major psychiatric disorders.

The journal publishes novel results of original research which represent an important new lead or significant impact on the field, particularly those addressing genetic and environmental risk factors, neural circuitry and neurochemistry, and important new therapeutic approaches. Reviews and commentaries that focus on topics of current research and interest are also encouraged.

Biological Psychiatry is one of the most selective and highly cited journals in the field of psychiatric neuroscience. It is ranked 4th out of 126 Psychiatry titles and 15th out of 237 Neurosciences titles in the Journal Citations Reports® published by Thomson Reuters. The 2010 Impact Factor for Biological Psychiatry is 8.674.


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Media contact

Rhiannon Bugno
Biological Psychiatry Editorial Office
+1 214 648 0880
biol.psych@utsouthwestern.edu