Neurobiological model of the persistence of anorexia nervosa

J Eat Disord. 2016 May 18;4:19. doi: 10.1186/s40337-016-0106-2. eCollection 2016.


Anorexia Nervosa (AN) is characterized by the maintenance of an undernourished, or starved, state. Persistent restrictive eating, or the recurrent intake of a diet that is inadequate to sustain a healthy weight, is the central behavior maintaining AN. To understand this disturbance, we need to understand the neural mechanisms that allow or promote the persistent choice of inadequate caloric intake. While a range of neural disturbances have been reported in AN, abnormalities in systems relevant to reward processing and the development of habit systems have been consistently described in both structural and functional neuroimaging studies. Most recently, brain and behavior have been directly examined by investigating the neural underpinnings of restrictive food choice. These recent data suggest that, among individuals with AN, dorsal frontostriatal circuits play a greater role in guiding decisions regarding what to eat than among healthy individuals. This line of research attempts to leverage advances in the field of cognitive neuroscience to further our understanding of persistent maladaptive choices of individuals with AN, in the hope that such advances will help in the development of novel treatments for this potentially fatal disorder.

Keywords: Anorexia nervosa; Cognitive neuroscience; Eating behavior; Habit systems; Reward systems.

Publication types

  • Review