Atypical anorexia nervosa is not related to brain structural changes in newly diagnosed adolescent patients

Int J Eat Disord. 2018 Jan;51(1):39-45. doi: 10.1002/eat.22805. Epub 2017 Dec 7.


Objective: Patients with atypical anorexia nervosa (AN) have many features overlapping with AN in terms of genetic risk, age of onset, psychopathology and prognosis of outcome, although the weight loss may not be a core factor. While brain structural alterations have been reported in AN, there are currently no data regarding atypical AN patients.

Method: We investigated brain structure through a voxel-based morphometry analysis in 22 adolescent females newly-diagnosed with atypical AN, and 38 age- and sex-matched healthy controls (HC). ED-related psychopathology, impulsiveness and obsessive-compulsive traits were assessed with the Eating Disorder Examination Questionnaire (EDE-Q), Barratt Impulsiveness Scale (BIS-11) and Obsessive-compulsive Inventory Revised (OCI-R), respectively. Body mass index (BMI) was also calculated.

Results: Patients and HC differed significantly on BMI (p < .002), EDE-Q total score (p < .000) and OCI-R total score (p < .000). No differences could be detected in grey matter (GM) regional volume between groups.

Discussion: The ED-related cognitions in atypical AN patients would suggest that atypical AN and AN could be part of the same spectrum of restrictive-ED. However, contrary to previous reports in AN, our atypical AN patients did not show any GM volume reduction. The different degree of weight loss might play a role in determining such discrepancy. Alternatively, the preservation of GM volume might indeed differentiate atypical AN from AN.

Keywords: MRI; OSFED; VBM; adolescent; anorexia; eating disorders; imaging.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anorexia Nervosa / diagnosis*
  • Anorexia Nervosa / psychology
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychopathology / methods*
  • Young Adult