What Functional MRI Finds with Anorexia

In yesterday’s post, functional MRI showed how rapidly anti-TNF agents can improve pain response in patients with Crohn’s disease.  A more complete description of this study is available from the AGA Blog: This is Your Brain on Anti-TNF Therapy. This link also includes access to a video abstract discussion with the author.

Another intriguing use of this technology provides insight into why Anorexia is difficult to treat.  The study was summarized in the NY Times:

Anorexia May Be Habit, Not Willpower  Here’s an excerpt:

The study’s findings may help explain why the eating disorder, which has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, is so stubbornly difficult to treat. But they also add to increasing evidence that the brain circuits involved in habitual behavior play a role in disorders where people persist in making self-destructive choices no matter the consequences, like cocaine addiction or compulsive gambling

The researchers used a brain scanning technique to look at brain activity in 21 women with anorexia and 21 healthy women while they made decisions about what foods to eat…

As expected, both the anorexic and the healthy women showed activation in an area known as the ventral striatum, part of the brain’s reward center. But the anorexic women showed more activity in the dorsal striatum, an area involved with habitual behavior, suggesting that rather than weighing the pros and cons of the foods in question, they were acting automatically based on past learning…

My take: This study shows an association between food selection and differences in brain activity between women with anorexia and in controls.  These changes do not prove a causal association but provide an important piece of information about what might be going wrong.

Atlanta Botanical Garden, Bruce Munro Exhibit

Atlanta Botanical Garden, Bruce Munro Exhibit

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