Sex differences in regional gray matter density in pre-adolescent binge eating disorder: a voxel-based morphometry study

Psychol Med. 2022 Oct 28;1-13. doi: 10.1017/S0033291722003269. Online ahead of print.


Background: Binge eating disorder (BED) is a pernicious psychiatric disorder which is linked with broad medical and psychiatric morbidity, and obesity. While BED may be characterized by altered cortical morphometry, no evidence to date examined possible sex-differences in regional gray matter characteristics among those with BED. This is especially important to consider in children, where BED symptoms often emerge coincident with rapid gray matter maturation.

Methods: Pre-adolescent, 9-10-year old boys (N = 38) and girls (N = 33) with BED were extracted from the 3.0 baseline (Year 0) release of the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study. We investigated sex differences in gray matter density (GMD) via voxel-based morphometry. Control sex differences were also assessed in age and body mass index and developmentally matched control children (boys N = 36; girls N = 38). Among children with BED, we additionally assessed the association between dorsolateral prefrontal (dlPFC) GMD and parent-reported behavioral approach and inhibition tendencies.

Results: Girls with BED uniquely demonstrate diffuse clusters of greater GMD (p < 0.05, Threshold Free Cluster Enhancement corrected) in the (i) left dlPFC (p = 0.003), (ii) bilateral dmPFC (p = 0.004), (iii) bilateral primary motor and somatosensory cortex (p = 0.0003) and (iv) bilateral precuneus (p = 0.007). Brain-behavioral associations suggest a unique negative correlation between GMD in the left dlPFC and behavioral approach tendencies among girls with BED.

Conclusions: Early-onset BED may be characterized by regional sex differences in terms of its underlying gray matter morphometry.

Keywords: Binge eating disorder; eating disorders; gray matter; gray matter morphology; voxel-based morphometry.