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Aberrant Dynamic Connectivity for Fear Processing in Anorexia Nervosa and Body Dysmorphic Disorder.


Anorexia nervosa (AN) and body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) share distorted perceptions of appearance with extreme negative emotion, yet the neural phenotypes of emotion processing remain underexplored in them, and they have never been directly compared. We sought to determine if shared and disorder-specific fronto-limbic connectivity patterns characterize these disorders. FMRI data was obtained from three unmedicated groups: BDD (n = 32), weight-restored AN (n = 25), and healthy controls (HC; n = 37), while they viewed fearful faces and rated their own degree of fearfulness in response. We performed dynamic effective connectivity modeling with medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC), and amygdala as regions-of-interest (ROI), and assessed associations between connectivity and clinical variables. HCs exhibited significant within-group bidirectional mPFC-amygdala connectivity, which increased across the blocks, whereas BDD participants exhibited only significant mPFC-to-amygdala connectivity (P < 0.05, family-wise error corrected). In contrast, participants with AN lacked significant prefrontal-amygdala connectivity in either direction. AN showed significantly weaker mPFC-to-amygdala connectivity compared to HCs (P = 0.0015) and BDD (P = 0.0050). The mPFC-to-amygdala connectivity was associated with greater subjective fear ratings (R2 = 0.11, P = 0.0016), eating disorder symptoms (R2 = 0.33, P = 0.0029), and anxiety (R2 = 0.29, P = 0.0055) intensity scores. Our findings, which suggest a complex nosological relationship, have implications for understanding emotion regulation circuitry in these related psychiatric disorders, and may have relevance for current and novel therapeutic approaches.

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