Altered functional connectivity in adolescent anorexia nervosa is related to age and cortical thickness

BMC Psychiatry. 2021 Oct 6;21(1):490. doi: 10.1186/s12888-021-03497-4.


Introduction: Functional networks develop throughout adolescence when anorexia nervosa (AN) normally debuts. In AN, cerebral structural alterations are found in most brain regions and may be related to the observed functional brain changes. Few studies have investigated the functional networks of the brain in adolescent AN patients.. The aim of this explorative study was to investigate multiple functional networks in adolescent AN patients compared to healthy age-matched controls (HC) and the relationship with age, eating disorder symptoms and structural alterations.

Methods: Included were 29 female inpatients with restrictive AN, and 27 HC. All participants were between the ages of 12 to 18 years. Independent component analysis (ICA) identified 21 functional networks that were analyzed with multivariate and univariate analyses of components and group affiliation (AN vs HC). Age, age × group interaction and AN symptoms were included as covariates. Follow-up correlational analyses of selected components and structural measures (cortical thickness and subcortical volume) were carried out.

Results: Decreased functional connectivity (FC) in AN patients was found in one cortical network, involving mainly the precuneus, and identified as a default mode network (DMN). Cortical thickness in the precuneus was significantly correlated with functional connectivity in this network. Significant group differences were also found in two subcortical networks involving mainly the hippocampus and the amygdala respectively, and a significant interaction effect of age and group was found in both these networks. There were no significant associations between FC and the clinical measures used in the study.

Conclusion: The findings from the present study may imply that functional alterations are related to structural alterations in selected regions and that the restricted food intake in AN patients disrupt normal age-related development of functional networks involving the amygdala and hippocampus.

Keywords: Adolescent; Anorexia nervosa; Eating disorders; RS-fMRI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anorexia Nervosa* / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain
  • Brain Mapping
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neural Pathways / diagnostic imaging