Background: Previous fMRI studies show that women with eating disorders (ED) have differential neural activation to viewing food images. However, despite clinical differences in their responses to food, differential neural activation to thinking about eating food, between women with anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia nervosa (BN) is not known.
Methods: We compare 50 women (8 with BN, 18 with AN and 24 age-matched healthy controls [HC]) while they view food images during functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI).
Results: In response to food (vs non-food) images, women with BN showed greater neural activation in the visual cortex, right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, right insular cortex and precentral gyrus, women with AN showed greater activation in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, cerebellum and right precuneus. HC women activated the cerebellum, right insular cortex, right medial temporal lobe and left caudate. Direct comparisons revealed that compared to HC, the BN group showed relative deactivation in the bilateral superior temporal gyrus/insula, and visual cortex, and compared to AN had relative deactivation in the parietal lobe and dorsal posterior cingulate cortex, but greater activation in the caudate, superior temporal gyrus, right insula and supplementary motor area.
Conclusions: Women with AN and BN activate top-down cognitive control in response to food images, yet women with BN have increased activation in reward and somatosensory regions, which might impinge on cognitive control over food consumption and binge eating.