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Neural hypersensitivity to pleasant touch in women remitted from anorexia nervosa.

Abstract

Interoception, or the sensing and integration of bodily state signals, has been implicated in anorexia nervosa (AN), given that the hallmark symptoms involve food restriction and body image disturbance. Here we focus on brain response to the anticipation and experience of affective interoceptive stimuli. Women remitted from AN (RAN; N = 18) and healthy comparison women (CW; N = 26) underwent a pleasant affective touch paradigm consisting of gentle strokes with a soft brush administered to the forearm or palm during functional neuroimaging. RAN had a lower brain response relative to CW during anticipation of touch, but a greater response when experiencing touch in the right ventral mid-insula. In RAN, this reduced anticipatory response was associated with higher levels of harm avoidance. Exploratory analyses in RAN also suggested that lower response during touch anticipation was associated with greater body dissatisfaction and higher perceived touch intensity ratings. This reduced responsivity to the anticipation of pleasant affective interoceptive stimuli in association with higher harm avoidance, along with an elevated response to the experience of touch, suggests an impaired ability in AN to predict and interpret incoming physiological stimuli. Impaired interoception may thus impact one's sense of self, thereby supporting observations of disturbed body image and avoidance of affective and social stimuli. Therapeutic approaches that help AN to better anticipate and interpret salient affective stimuli or improve tolerance of interoceptive experiences may be an important addition to current interventions.

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