Study shows brain function differences in women with anorexia

September 17, 2012
Study shows brain function differences in women with anorexia
Researchers found different parts of the brain were activated during different appraisals of self. 

A new study published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience by researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at UT Dallas and UT Southwestern found brain-based differences in how women with and without anorexia perceive themselves. The findings shed light on how brain pathways function in ill and fully recovered individuals who have had anorexia nervosa.

Dr. Dan Krawczyk, associate professor at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas in the School of Behavioral and and psychiatry at UT Southwestern, and Dr. Carrie McAdams, assistant psychiatry professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center, used , or fMRI. Then they asked to evaluate their own characteristics in comparison to a friend.

Tasks consisted of reading and responding to statements with three different appraisals:

  • Self (evaluation of an attribute about one's own identity based on one's own opinion).
  • Friend (evaluation of an attribute about a close female friend).
  • Reflected (evaluation of an attribute about one's self as believed by one's friend).
When making judgments about themselves, women with anorexia showed different types of than women without anorexia.
"This data provides that self-identity is processed differently in women with anorexia nervosa," said Dr. Krawczyk. "These differences in understandings of oneself may lead to and perpetuate the problematic eating behaviors of those with anorexia. This is important because it further validates the idea that anorexia is not just about food behaviors, but rather it is about how individuals see themselves and link it to ."

Researchers observed differences in fMRI activation related to self-knowledge ("I am," "I look") and perspective-taking ("I believe," "a friend believes") in the 's precuneus, two areas with the dorsal anterior cingulate and the left middle frontal gyrus. This study further validates that the precuneus is linked to self-consciousness and reflective self-awareness, both of which involve rating one's own personality traits as opposed to making judgments of other people.

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, more than 24 million people of all ages and genders stuffer from an eating disorder in the United States. Women are much more likely than men to develop eating disorders, and research suggests that up to 4 percent of women suffer from anorexia nervosa in their lifetimes.

"Anorexia nervosa is the psychiatric illness with the highest mortality rate, with nearly 10 peercent of its sufferers dying from the disorder," said Dr. McAdams. "Treatments for anorexia attempt to change the eating habits of the individual so that they begin to eat a nutritionally balanced diet. However, this disorder is rarely cured by dietary changes alone."

The hope of Dr. Krawczyk's and Dr. McAdams' research is to show how the latest advancements in neuroimaging can characterize brain-based changes in those with to facilitate timely and efficacious prevention and treatment.

"We are now working to compare how these brain pathways function in both currently ill and fully recovered individuals who have had , with the hope of observing whether changes in these brain regions can be associated with recovery," said  Dr. Krawczyk.

Explore further: Does eating give you pleasure or make you anxious?

More information: doi: 10.1093/scan/nss093

Related Stories

Does eating give you pleasure or make you anxious?

May 20, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Perhaps the most puzzling symptom of anorexia nervosa -- a disorder that tends to occur in young women -- is the refusal to eat, resulting in extreme weight loss. While most people have a great deal of ...

New approach to diagnosing anorexia nervosa

January 9, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- A new approach for diagnosing patients with anorexia nervosa has been developed at the University of Sydney. The approach could have a significant impact on the treatment and recovery of sufferers, as ...

Do deficits in brain cannabinoids contribute to eating disorders?

October 31, 2011
A new report in Biological Psychiatry suggests that deficits in endocannabinoid function may contribute to anorexia nervosa and bulimia. Endocannabinoids are substances made by the brain that affect brain function and chemistry ...

Recommended for you

Theory: Flexibility is at the heart of human intelligence

November 19, 2017
Centuries of study have yielded many theories about how the brain gives rise to human intelligence. Some neuroscientists think intelligence springs from a single region or neural network. Others argue that metabolism or the ...

Investigating patterns of degeneration in Alzheimer's disease

November 17, 2017
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is known to cause memory loss and cognitive decline, but other functions of the brain can remain intact. The reasons cells in some brain regions degenerate while others are protected is largely unknown. ...

Study may point to new treatment approach for ASD

November 17, 2017
Using sophisticated genome mining and gene manipulation techniques, researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) have solved a mystery that could lead to a new treatment approach for autism spectrum disorder ...

Neuroscientists find chronic stress skews decisions toward higher-risk options

November 16, 2017
Making decisions is not always easy, especially when choosing between two options that have both positive and negative elements, such as deciding between a job with a high salary but long hours, and a lower-paying job that ...

Paraplegic rats walk and regain feeling after stem cell treatment

November 16, 2017
Engineered tissue containing human stem cells has allowed paraplegic rats to walk independently and regain sensory perception. The implanted rats also show some degree of healing in their spinal cords. The research, published ...

Brain implant tested in human patients found to improve memory recall

November 15, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers with the University of Southern California and the Wake Forest School of Medicine has conducted experiments involving implanting electrodes into the brains of human volunteers to see ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

JVK
1 / 5 (2) Sep 18, 2012
Why can't these women simply be trained by behaviorists, like other animals, to eat? Could there be a dysfunctional regulation of the GnRH neuronal system that links the adaptive evolution of an environmental drive that probably evolved from that of food ingestion in unicellular organisms to that of socialization in insects. I suggest this because it is clear that, in mammals, food odors and pheromones cause changes in hormones such as LH, which has developmental affects on sexual behavior in nutrient-dependent, reproductively fit individuals across species of vertebrates. Disordered LH and perception of self vs non-self differences in physical appearance are symptoms of anorexia, aren't they? Should it be examined in the context of epigenetics effects on GnRH?

Kohl, J.V. (2012) Human pheromones and food odors: epigenetic influences on the socioaffective nature of evolved behaviors. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology, 2: 17338.http://dx.doi.org...i0.17338

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.