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Clin Psychol Rev. 2010 Aug;30(6):655-68. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2010.04.011. Epub 2010 May 31.

Conceptualizing the role of estrogens and serotonin in the development and maintenance of bulimia nervosa.

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Eating and Weight Disorders Program, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, One Gustave L. Levy Place, Box 1230, New York, NY 10029, USA.


Serotonergic dysregulation is thought to underlie much of the pathology in bulimia nervosa (BN). The purpose of this review is to expand the serotonergic model by incorporating specific and nonspecific contributions of estrogens to the development and maintenance of bulimic pathology in order to guide research from molecular genetics to novel therapeutics for BN. Special emphasis is given to the organizing theory of general brain arousal which allows for integration of specific and nonspecific effects of these systems on behavioral endpoints such as binge eating or purging as well as arousal states such as fear, novelty seeking, or sex. Regulation of the serotonergic system by estrogens is explored, and genetic, epigenetic, and environmental estrogen effects on bulimic pathology and risk factors are discussed. Genetic and neuroscientific research support this two-system conceptualization of BN with both contributions to the developmental and maintenance of the disorder. Implications of an estrogenic-serotonergic model of BN are discussed as well as guidelines and suggestions for future research and novel therapeutic targets.

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