Metabolic and neuroendocrine adaptations to undernutrition in anorexia nervosa: from a clinical to a basic research point of view

Horm Mol Biol Clin Investig. 2018 Mar 28;36(1). doi: 10.1515/hmbci-2018-0010.


The exact mechanisms linking metabolic and neuroendocrine adaptations to undernutrition and the pathophysiology of anorexia nervosa (AN) are not fully understood. AN is a psychiatric disorder of complex etiology characterized by extreme starvation while the disease is progressing into a chronic state. Metabolic and endocrine alterations associated to this disorder are part of a powerful response to maintain whole body energy homeostasis. But these modifications may also contribute to associated neuropsychiatric symptoms (reward abnormalities, anxiety, depression) and thus participate to sustain the disease. The current review presents data with both a clinical and basic research point of view on the role of nutritional and energy sensors with neuroendocrine actions in the pathophysiology of the disease, as they modulate metabolic responses, reproductive functions, stress responses as well as physical activity. While clinical data present a full description of changes occurring in AN, animal models that integrate either spontaneous genetic mutations or experimentally-induced food restriction with hyperactivity and/or social stress recapitulate the main metabolic and endocrine alterations of AN and provide mechanistic information between undernutrition state and symptoms of the disease. Further progress on the central and peripheral mechanism involved in the pathophysiology of eating disorders partly relies on the development and/or refinement of existing animal models to include recently identified genetic traits and better mimic the complex and multifactorial dimensions of the disease.

Keywords: anorexia nervosa; hormones; metabolic; neuroendocrine; psychiatric disorder; undernutrition.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Animals
  • Anorexia Nervosa / complications
  • Anorexia Nervosa / metabolism*
  • Anorexia Nervosa / physiopathology
  • Ghrelin / metabolism
  • Glucocorticoids / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Leptin / metabolism
  • Malnutrition / etiology
  • Malnutrition / metabolism*
  • Malnutrition / physiopathology


  • Ghrelin
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Leptin