Preserved white matter microstructure in adolescent patients with atypical anorexia nervosa

Int J Eat Disord. 2019 Feb;52(2):166-174. doi: 10.1002/eat.23012. Epub 2019 Jan 24.


Objective: Patients with atypical anorexia nervosa (AN) are often in the normal-weight range at presentation; however, signs of starvation and medical instability are not rare. White matter (WM) microstructural correlates of atypical AN have not yet been investigated, leaving an important gap in our knowledge regarding the neural pathogenesis of this disorder.

Method: We investigated WM microstructural integrity in 25 drug-naïve adolescent patients with atypical AN and 25 healthy controls, using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) with a tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS) approach. Psychological variables related to the eating disorder and depressive symptoms were also evaluated by administering the eating disorder examination questionnaire (EDE-Q) and the Montgomery-Åsberg depression rating scale (MADRS-S) respectively, to all participants.

Results: Patients and controls were in the normal-weight range and did not differ from the body mass index standard deviations for their age. No between groups difference in WM microstructure could be detected.

Discussion: Our findings support the hypothesis that brain structural alterations may not be associated to early-stage atypical AN. These findings also suggest that previous observations of alterations in WM microstructure in full syndrome AN may constitute state-related consequences of severe weight loss. Whether the preservation of WM structure is a pathogenetically discriminant feature of atypical AN or only an effect of a less severe nutritional disturbance, will have to be verified by future studies on larger samples, possibly directly comparing AN and atypical AN.

Keywords: adolescent; anorexia nervosa; brain; cognitive neuroscience; diffusion tensor imaging; feeding and eating disorders; neuroimaging.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anorexia Nervosa / physiopathology*
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • White Matter / anatomy & histology*