Background: Women with anorexia nervosa (AN) have aberrant cognitions about food and altered activity in prefrontal cortical and somatosensory regions to food images. However, differential effects on the brain when thinking about eating food between healthy women and those with AN is unknown.
Methods: Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) examined neural activation when 42 women thought about eating the food shown in images: 18 with AN (11 RAN, 7 BPAN) and 24 age-matched controls (HC).
Results: Group contrasts between HC and AN revealed reduced activation in AN in the bilateral cerebellar vermis, and increased activation in the right visual cortex. Preliminary comparisons between AN subtypes and healthy controls suggest differences in cortical and limbic regions.
Conclusions: These preliminary data suggest that thinking about eating food shown in images increases visual and prefrontal cortical neural responses in females with AN, which may underlie cognitive biases towards food stimuli and ruminations about controlling food intake. Future studies are needed to explicitly test how thinking about eating activates restraint cognitions, specifically in those with restricting vs. binge-purging AN subtypes.