Structural brain abnormalities in adolescent patients with anorexia nervosa at both the acute and weight-recovered phase

Brain Imaging Behav. 2022 Jan 13. doi: 10.1007/s11682-021-00622-5. Online ahead of print.


Previous cross-sectional studies have reported that adolescent patients with anorexia nervosa (AN) showed global gray matter volume (GMV) reductions at the acute phase which were restored at the weight-recovered phase, compared with healthy controls (HC). However, few studies have investigated white matter volume (WMV) or cortical thickness in the context of AN, and results have been inconsistent. Voxel-based morphometry analyses for GM and WM, and cortical thickness analyses for GM were conducted in 31 adolescent patients with AN (vs. 18 HC) in the acute phase, and 16 patients with AN (vs. 13 HC) in the follow-up weight-recovered phase, over an approximately 1-year follow-up interval. At the acute phase, the AN patients showed significant reductions of GMVs and cortical thickness in widespread brain regions, compared with HC. Significant WMV reductions were identified in the bilateral superior longitudinal fascicle, superior thalamic radiation, corona radiata, and fornix, pons, and medulla in the patients. At the weight-recovered phase, the AN patients showed a significant GMV reduction in the left hippocampus, and a WMV reduction in the pons, compared with the HC. There was no difference in cortical thickness between two groups at the weight-recovered phase. In conclusion, the widespread volumetric reductions in GM and WM, and reduced cortical thickness observed in AN patients in the acute phase were not evident in the follow-up weight-recovered phase. The volume reductions observed in the hippocampus and pons in the weight-recovered phase could potentially reflect delayed neurogenesis or recovery from starvation in the AN patients.

Keywords: Adolescent patient; Anorexia nervosa; Cortical thickness; Hippocampus; Pons.