Involvement of cytokines in eating disorders: a critical review of the human literature

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2003 Apr;28(3):229-49. doi: 10.1016/s0306-4530(02)00021-5.


A number of findings from clinical and animal studies indicate that pro-inflammatory cytokines may play roles in eating disorders. The measurement of pro-inflammatory cytokines (IL-1, IL-6, TNFalpha), which are known to decrease food intake, provides highly variable data from which firm conclusions cannot be drawn. In most of the longitudinal studies where pro-inflammatory cytokines have been shown to be impaired in anorexia or bulimia nervosa, a return to normal values was observed after renutrition. However these findings do not exclude the possibility that pro-inflammatory cytokines might be overproduced in specific brain areas and act locally without concomitantly increased serum or immune production. It was also pointed out that the production of the major type-1 cytokines (especially IL-2) was depressed in anorexia nervosa. It remains unclear whether this is due to undernutrition or to a specific underlying cause common to eating disorders. The impaired cytokine profile observed in eating disorders could be related to several factors including impaired nutrition, psychopathological and neuroendocrine factors. More particular attention should be devoted to the deregulation of the anti/pro-inflammatory balance. Deregulation of the cytokine network may be responsible for medical complications in eating disorder patients who are afflicted with chronic underweight.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cytokines / blood
  • Cytokines / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Cytokines / physiology*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / blood
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Neuroimmunomodulation / physiology
  • Neurosecretory Systems / physiology
  • Nutritional Status / physiology


  • Cytokines