Functional connectivity underlying hedonic response to food in female adolescents with atypical AN: the role of somatosensory and salience networks

Transl Psychiatry. 2019 Nov 7;9(1):276. doi: 10.1038/s41398-019-0617-0.


Atypical anorexia nervosa (AN) usually occurs during adolescence. Patients are often in the normal-weight range at diagnosis; however, they often present with signs of medical complications and severe restraint over eating, body dissatisfaction, and low self-esteem. We investigated functional circuitry underlying the hedonic response in 28 female adolescent patients diagnosed with atypical AN and 33 healthy controls. Participants were shown images of food with high (HC) or low (LC) caloric content in alternating blocks during functional MRI. The HC > LC contrast was calculated. Based on the previous literature on full-threshold AN, we hypothesized that patients would exhibit increased connectivity in areas involved in sensory processing and bottom-up responses, coupled to increased connectivity from areas related to top-down inhibitory control, compared with controls. Patients showed increased connectivity in pathways related to multimodal somatosensory processing and memory retrieval. The connectivity was on the other hand decreased in patients in salience and attentional networks, and in a wide cerebello-occipital network. Our study was the first investigation of food-related neural response in atypical AN. Our findings support higher somatosensory processing in patients in response to HC food images compared with controls, however HC food was less efficient than LC food in engaging patients' bottom-up salient responses, and was not associated with connectivity increases in inhibitory control regions. These findings suggest that the psychopathological mechanisms underlying food restriction in atypical AN differ from full-threshold AN. Elucidating the mechanisms underlying the development and maintenance of eating behavior in atypical AN might help designing specific treatment strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anorexia Nervosa / physiopathology*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Female
  • Food*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology*
  • Sweden
  • Visual Perception