In vivo evidence of global and focal brain alterations in anorexia nervosa

Psychiatry Res. 2011 Jun 30;192(3):154-9. doi: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.12.008. Epub 2011 May 5.


Brain alterations are known to be associated with anorexia nervosa (AN) and tend to be distributed across brain structures, with only a few reports describing focal damage. Magnetic resonance images of 21 anorexic patients with different disease duration and 27 control subjects were acquired and compared using voxel-based morphometry (VBM). Patients had a significant reduction of total white matter (WM) volume and focal gray matter (GM) atrophy in cerebellum, hypothalamus, caudate nucleus and frontal, parietal and temporal areas. The cerebellum was more affected in patients with longer disease duration, whereas the hypothalamic alterations were more pronounced in patients with shorter food restriction. A correlation with body mass index (BMI) and GM was found in the hypothalamus. Our data demonstrate a diffuse reduction of WM together with focal areas of GM atrophy in AN. The finding of a hypothalamic focal atrophy points to hormonal dysfunction and opens the possibility for a central dysregulation of homeostasis. The involvement of temporoparietal areas could account for body image distortion. Finally, the cerebellar GM atrophy confirms previous findings and seems to be a late consequence of AN that could play a role in the chronic phase of the disease.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anorexia Nervosa / pathology*
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Middle Aged
  • Young Adult