Changes in brain and behavior during food-based decision-making following treatment of anorexia nervosa

Foerde, Karin; Walsh, B. T.; Dalack, Maya; Daw, Nathaniel; Shohamy, Daphna; Steinglass, Joanna E.

Anorexia nervosa is a severe illness with a high mortality rate, driven in large part by severe and persistent restriction of food intake. A critical challenge is to identify brain mechanisms associated with maladaptive eating behavior and whether they change with treatment. This study tested whether food choice-related caudate activation in anorexia nervosa changes with treatment.

Healthy women (n = 29) and women hospitalized with anorexia nervosa (n = 24), ages 18 to 40 years, completed a Food Choice Task during fMRI scanning at two timepoints. Among patients, procedures occurred upon hospital admission (Time 1) and again after patients had gained to normal weight (Time 2). Healthy controls were tested twice at an interval group-matched to patients. Choice-related caudate activation was assessed at each timepoint, using parametric analyses in an a priori region of interest.

Among patients, the proportion of high-fat foods selected did not change over time (p’s > 0.47), but decreased neural activity in the caudate after treatment was associated with increased selection of high-fat foods (r23 = − 0.43, p = 0.037). Choice-related caudate activation differed among women with anorexia nervosa vs healthy control women at Time 1 (healthy control: M = 0.15 ± 0.87, anorexia nervosa: M = 0.70 ± 1.1, t51 = − 2.05, p = 0.045), but not at Time 2 (healthy control: M = 0.18 ± 1.0, anorexia nervosa: M = 0.37 ± 0.99, t51 = − 0.694, p = 0.49).

Caudate activity was more strongly associated with decisions about food among individuals with anorexia nervosa relative to healthy comparison individuals prior to treatment, and decreases in caudate engagement among individuals with anorexia nervosa undergoing treatment were associated with increases in high-fat food choices. The findings underscore the need for treatment development that more successfully alters both eating behavior and the neural mechanisms that guide it.


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Also Published In

Journal of Eating Disorders

More About This Work

Published Here
December 20, 2022


Anorexia nervosa, Treatment, fMRI, Neuroscience, Longitudinal, Eating behavior