Alterations in white matter microstructure in women recovered from anorexia nervosa

Int J Eat Disord. 2013 Nov;46(7):701-8. doi: 10.1002/eat.22154. Epub 2013 Jul 1.


Objective: A recent study of ill individuals with anorexia nervosa (AN) reported microstructural alterations in white matter integrity including lower fractional anisotropy and higher mean diffusivity. This study was designed to determine whether such alterations exist in long-term recovered AN individuals and to examine potential associations with underlying AN traits.

Method: Twelve adult women recovered from restricting-type AN and 10 control women were studied using diffusion tensor imaging.

Results: Overall, there was no significant fractional anisotropy alteration in recovered AN, in contrast to a prior study reporting lower fractional anisotropy in ill AN. Further, recovered AN showed lower mean diffusivity in frontal, parietal and cingulum white matter relative to control women, contrary to elevated mean diffusivity previously reported in ill AN. Lower longitudinal diffusivity in recovered AN was associated with higher harm avoidance. However, more severe illness history was associated with worse white matter integrity after recovery in the same direction as reported in prior work.

Discussion: Our findings suggest that fractional anisotropy in recovered AN is not different from controls, however, a novel pattern of lower mean diffusivity was evidenced in recovered AN, and this alteration was associated with harm avoidance. Notably, severity of illness history may have long-term consequences, emphasizing the importance of aggressive treatment.

Keywords: anorexia nervosa; anxiety; diffusion tensor imaging; eating disorders; harm avoidance; white matter.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anisotropy
  • Anorexia Nervosa / pathology*
  • Anorexia Nervosa / psychology
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging
  • Female
  • Harm Reduction
  • Humans
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / diagnostic imaging
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / pathology*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Ultrasonography