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J Pediatr. 2001 Jul;139(1):51-7.

Neural substrates of anorexia nervosa: a behavioral challenge study with positron emission tomography.

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  • 1Divisions of Adolescent/Young Adult Medicine and Endocrinology, Children's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.



To delineate functional brain abnormalities associated with anorexia nervosa (AN).


Positron emission tomographic measurements of regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) were performed on 8 female patients with AN and 8 healthy female control subjects during exposure to 3 types of stimuli: high-calorie foods, low-calorie foods, and non-food items. Heart rate and internal state analog scale scores were also obtained. Stereotactic transformation and statistical parametric mapping techniques were used to analyze imaging data.


During the high-calorie condition, control subjects reported a significant desire to eat, whereas subjects with AN reported elevated anxiety and exhibited increases in heart rate. Patients with AN had elevated bilateral medial temporal lobe rCBF compared with control subjects. Planned comparisons for group-by-condition interactions demonstrated greater activation within left occipital cortex and right temporo-occipital cortex for the high-calorie versus low-calorie contrast in patients with AN compared with control subjects.


Our finding of elevated rCBF within bilateral medial temporal lobes is similar to published results in patients with psychotic disorders and may be related to the body image distortion common to AN. The high-calorie food phobia exhibited by patients with AN appears to be associated with exaggerated responses in visual association cortex, as has been previously observed in studies of specific phobias.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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