Send to

Choose Destination
BMC Psychiatry. 2016 Jan 16;16:10. doi: 10.1186/s12888-016-0714-z.

A debate on working memory and cognitive control: can we learn about the treatment of substance use disorders from the neural correlates of anorexia nervosa?

Author information

UCT Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, Groote Schuur Hospital, Anzio Road, Observatory Cape Town, South Africa.



Anorexia Nervosa (AN) is a debilitating, sometimes fatal eating disorder (ED) whereby restraint of appetite and emotion is concomitant with an inflexible, attention-to-detail perfectionist cognitive style and obsessive-compulsive behaviour. Intriguingly, people with AN are less likely to engage in substance use, whereas those who suffer from an ED with a bingeing component are more vulnerable to substance use disorder (SUD).


This insight into a beneficial consequence of appetite control in those with AN, which is shrouded by the many other unhealthy, excessive and deficit symptoms, may provide some clues as to how the brain could be trained to exert better, sustained control over appetitive and impulsive processes. Structural and functional brain imaging studies implicate the executive control network (ECN) and the salience network (SN) in the neuropathology of AN and SUD. Additionally, excessive employment of working memory (WM), alongside more prominent cognitive deficits may be utilised to cope with the experience of negative emotions and may account for aberrant brain function. WM enables mental rehearsal of cognitive strategies while regulating, restricting or avoiding neural responses associated with the SN. Therefore, high versus low WM capacity may be one of the factors that unites common cognitive and behavioural symptoms in those suffering from AN and SUD respectively. Furthermore, emerging evidence suggests that by evoking neural plasticity in the ECN and SN with WM training, improvements in neurocognitive function and cognitive control can be achieved. Thus, considering the neurocognitive processes of excessive appetite control and how it links to WM in AN may aid the application of adjunctive treatment for SUD.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for BioMed Central Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center