Food motivation circuitry hypoactivation related to hedonic and nonhedonic aspects of hunger and satiety in women with active anorexia nervosa and weight-restored women with anorexia nervosa

Holsen LM, Lawson EA, Blum J, Ko E, Makris N, Fazeli PK, Klibanski A, Goldstein JM

J Psychiatry Neurosci 2012 Sep;37(5):322-32

PMID: 22498079


BACKGROUND: Previous studies have provided evidence of food motivation circuitry dysfunction in individuals with anorexia nervosa. However, methodological limitations present challenges to the development of a cohesive neurobiological model of anorexia nervosa. Our goal was to investigate the neural circuitry of appetite dysregulation across states of hunger and satiety in active and weight-restored phases of anorexia nervosa using robust methodology to advance our understanding of potential neural circuitry abnormalities related to hedonic and nonhedonic state and trait.

METHODS: We scanned women with active anorexia nervosa, weight-restored women with anorexia nervosa and healthy-weight controls on a 3-T Siemens magnetic resonance scanner while they viewed images of high- and low-calorie foods and objects before (premeal) and after (postmeal) eating a 400 kcal meal.

RESULTS: We enrolled 12 women with active disease, 10 weight-restored women with anorexia nervosa and 11 controls in our study. Compared with controls, both weight-restored women and those with active disease demonstrated hypoactivity premeal in the hypothalamus, amygdala and anterior insula in response to high-calorie foods (v. objects). Postmeal, hypoactivation in the anterior insula persisted in women with active disease. Percent signal change in the anterior insula was positively correlated with food stimuli ratings and hedonic and nonhedonic appetite ratings in controls, but not women with active disease.

LIMITATIONS: Our findings are limited by a relatively small sample size, which prevented the use of an analysis of variance model and exploration of interaction effects, although our substantial effect sizes of between-group differences suggest adequate power for our statistical analysis approach. Participants taking psychotropic medications were included.

CONCLUSION: Our data provide evidence of potential state and trait hypoactivations in food motivation regions involved in the assessment of food’s reward value and integration of these with interoceptive signalling of one’s internal state of well-being, with important relations between brain activity and homeostatic and hedonic aspects of appetite. Our findings give novel evidence of disruption in neurobiological circuits and stress the importance of examining both state and trait characteristics in the investigation of brain phenotypes in individuals with anorexia nervosa.