Greater anterior insula activation during anticipation of food images in women recovered from anorexia nervosa versus controls

Psychiatry Res. 2013 Nov 30;214(2):132-41. doi: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2013.06.010. Epub 2013 Aug 28.


Individuals with anorexia nervosa (AN) restrict food consumption and become severely emaciated. Eating food, even thinking of eating food, is often associated with heightened anxiety. However, food cue anticipation in AN is poorly understood. Fourteen women recovered from AN and 12 matched healthy control women performed an anticipation task viewing images of food and object images during functional magnetic resonance imaging. Comparing anticipation of food versus object images between control women and recovered AN groups showed significant interaction only in the right ventral anterior insula, with greater activation in recovered AN anticipating food images. These data support the hypothesis of a disconnect between anticipating and experiencing food stimuli in recovered AN. Insula activation positively correlated with pleasantness ratings of palatable foods in control women, while no such relationship existed in recovered AN, which is further evidence of altered interoceptive function. Finally, these findings raise the possibility that enhanced anterior insula anticipatory response to food cues in recovered AN could contribute to exaggerated sensitivity and anxiety related to food and eating.

Keywords: Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI); Interoception; Neuroimaging.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anorexia Nervosa* / pathology
  • Anorexia Nervosa* / psychology
  • Anorexia Nervosa* / therapy
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / blood supply
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Food*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Imagery, Psychotherapy / methods*
  • Linear Models
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Motivation*
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Pleasure
  • Recovery of Function / physiology*
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Oxygen