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Interoceptive Anxiety and Body Representation in Anorexia Nervosa.


Individuals with anorexia nervosa (AN) typically display anxious traits prior to the onset of food avoidance and weight loss that characterize the disorder. Meal associated anxiety is an especially common clinical feature in these patients, and heightened sensitivity to sympathetically mediated interoceptive sensations has also been observed. However, it remains unclear how heightened interoceptive sensitivity relates to experiences of anxiety before and after meals. To investigate this relationship, we experimentally induced anxiety and panic symptoms with isoproterenol, a peripheral sympathetic agonist similar to adrenaline, across several different conditions: during panic provocation, during anticipation of a 1,000 Calorie meal, and after meal consumption. Fifteen AN and 15 age- and sex-matched healthy comparisons received bolus infusions of isoproterenol and saline in a double-blinded, randomized design. Participants rated anxiety symptoms after each infusion, completed panic rating scales, and traced the location of perceived palpitations on a manikin to index interoceptive "body map" representation. The AN group reported significantly elevated anxiety relative to healthy comparisons during infusions before and after the meal, but surprisingly, not during panic provocation. These symptoms were accompanied by geographical differences in patterns of perceived heartbeat sensations across each condition. In particular, the AN group localized heartbeat sensations disproportionately to the chest during meal related saline infusions, when no cardiorespiratory modulation actually occurred. The AN group also showed a trend toward higher panic attack rates during the meal anticipation period. Correcting for anxiety levels reported during saline infusions abolished group differences in anxiety change across all conditions, suggesting a significant contribution of anxious traits in AN. The observation of meal related "visceral illusions" provides further evidence that AN is associated with abnormal interoceptive representation of the heartbeat and suggests that meal consumption, particularly when anticipated, preferentially alters the processing of interoception related signals in AN.

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