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N Engl J Med. 1988 Sep 15;319(11):683-8.

Impaired cholecystokinin secretion in bulimia nervosa.

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  • 1Clinical Neuroendocrinology Branch, National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, Md.


Bulimia nervosa is a prevalent disorder of unknown cause, characterized by recurrent episodes of uncontrollable eating. In the light of recent evidence that the gastrointestinal hormone cholecystokinin induces satiety and reduces food intake in laboratory animals and humans, we investigated the hypothesis that abnormalities in cholecystokinin secretion and satiety may occur in patients with bulimia and contribute to their disturbed eating patterns. Blood levels of cholecystokinin and subjective satiety were measured in 14 women with bulimia and 10 normal women before and after a mixed-liquid meal. The total integrated plasma cholecystokinin response to eating was significantly impaired in patients with bulimia (P less than 0.05) as was postprandial satiety. Fasting cholecystokinin levels were similar in both populations (approximately 0.8 pmol per liter). After eating, however, mean (+/- SEM) peak plasma cholecystokinin levels increased to 4.1 +/- 0.9 pmol per liter in normal controls but to only 2.1 +/- 0.2 pmol per liter in patients with bulimia nervosa (P less than 0.05). After an open trial of tricyclic antidepressants in a subgroup of five patients with bulimia, the postprandial cholecystokinin response to eating increased significantly, to 6.6 +/- 1.2 pmol per liter (P less than 0.05), and there was an increase in the satiety response. We conclude that patients with bulimia do not have normal satiety and have impaired secretion of cholecystokinin in response to a meal. Preliminary evidence suggests that both these abnormalities may be improved by treatment with tricyclic antidepressants.

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