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Recent advances in understanding anorexia nervosa.


Anorexia nervosa is a complex psychiatric illness associated with food restriction and high mortality. Recent brain research in adolescents and adults with anorexia nervosa has used larger sample sizes compared with earlier studies and tasks that test specific brain circuits. Those studies have produced more robust results and advanced our knowledge of underlying biological mechanisms that may contribute to the development and maintenance of anorexia nervosa. It is now recognized that malnutrition and dehydration lead to dynamic changes in brain structure across the brain, which normalize with weight restoration. Some structural alterations could be trait factors but require replication. Functional brain imaging and behavioral studies have implicated learning-related brain circuits that may contribute to food restriction in anorexia nervosa. Most notably, those circuits involve striatal, insular, and frontal cortical regions that drive learning from reward and punishment, as well as habit learning. Disturbances in those circuits may lead to a vicious cycle that hampers recovery. Other studies have started to explore the neurobiology of interoception or social interaction and whether the connectivity between brain regions is altered in anorexia nervosa. All together, these studies build upon earlier research that indicated neurotransmitter abnormalities in anorexia nervosa and help us develop models of a distinct neurobiology that underlies anorexia nervosa.

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