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Biol Psychiatry. 2011 Oct 15;70(8):777-84. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2011.05.010. Epub 2011 Jun 29.

Brain type 1 cannabinoid receptor availability in patients with anorexia and bulimia nervosa.

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Division of Nuclear Medicine, University Hospital and Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Leuven, Belgium.



The endocannabinoid system is a possible target in the treatment of eating disorders. We used positron emission tomography to investigate the type 1 cannabinoid receptor (CB1R) in bulimic and anorectic patients.


We investigated 16 female bulimia nervosa patients (BN) (age = 23.8 ± 7.1 years) and 14 female anorexia nervosa patients (AN) (age = 20.5 ± 3.6 years) using the selective CB1R ligand [(18)F]MK-9470. The control group consisted of 19 age-matched women (age = 25.2 ± 8.5 years). Statistical parametric mapping (p(family-wise error) < .05) and volume-of-interest analyses of CB1R availability were performed.


Global CB1R availability was significantly increased in cortical and subcortical brain areas in AN patients compared with healthy control subjects (+24.5%, p = .0003). Regionally, CB1R availability was increased in the insula in both AN and BN patients (p = .01 and p = .0004) and the inferior frontal and temporal cortex in AN patients only (p = .02).


Global CB1R upregulation in AN patients is a possible long-term compensatory mechanism to an underactive endocannabinoid system in anorectic conditions. There is a similarity in CB1R dysregulation both in AN and BN in the insular cortex, which is involved in the integration of interoceptive information, gustatory information, reward, and emotion processing.

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