Early-onset anorexia nervosa: is there evidence of limbic system imbalance?

Int J Eat Disord. 2003 May;33(4):388-96. doi: 10.1002/eat.10155.


Objective: This study, part of a continuing effort to understand the pathophysiology of the brain in early-onset anorexia nervosa, attempts to validate findings from an earlier study of regional cerebral blood flow and to correlate any abnormalities in blood flow with eating disorder psychopathology.

Method: Fifteen newly referred children and adolescents with a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa (AN) underwent regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) examination using single-photon computerized tomography (SPECT) and the Eating Disorders Examination (EDE) for children.

Results: Mean age was 14 years 11 months (SD = 1.35). Mean weight for height ratio was 82.79 % (SD = 10.66). SPECT findings showed that 11 (73%) had asymmetry (hypoperfusion) of blood flow in at least one area. Regions of the brain showing hypoperfusion included the temporal lobe (n = 9), parietal lobe (n = 5), frontal lobe (n = 3), thalamus (n = 3), and the caudate nuclei (n = 1). The median EDE subscale scores were high for all four subscales. Those patients with hypoperfusion had higher median EDE subscale scores than those without hypoperfusion, although the differences were not statistically significant.

Conclusions: Most patients in our study had abnormal rCBF, predominantly affecting the temporal lobe, confirming our previous findings. There was no association with the EDE scores. The findings support earlier suggestions of an imbalance in neural pathways or circuits, possibly within the limbic system. This hypothesis is considered within the context of current knowledge and suggestions made with regard to how it might be tested.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anorexia Nervosa / diagnostic imaging*
  • Anorexia Nervosa / physiopathology
  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Brain / blood supply*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Caudate Nucleus / blood supply
  • Caudate Nucleus / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebral Cortex / blood supply
  • Cerebral Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Child
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Limbic System / diagnostic imaging*
  • Limbic System / physiopathology
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology
  • Regional Blood Flow / physiology
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Temporal Lobe / blood supply
  • Temporal Lobe / diagnostic imaging
  • Thalamus / blood supply
  • Thalamus / diagnostic imaging
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed, Single-Photon*