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Nord J Psychiatry. 2017 Apr;71(3):188-196. doi: 10.1080/08039488.2016.1250948. Epub 2016 Nov 15.

Adolescents newly diagnosed with eating disorders have structural differences in brain regions linked with eating disorder symptoms.

Author information

a Department of Neuroscience, Functional Pharmacology , Uppsala University , Uppsala , Sweden.
b Department of Women's and Children's Health , Uppsala University , Uppsala , Sweden.
c Department of Neuroscience, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry , Uppsala University , Sweden.
d Department of Surgical Sciences , Uppsala University , Uppsala , Sweden.
e Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health , University of Cape Town , Cape Town , South Africa.



Adults with eating disorders (ED) show brain volume reductions in the frontal, insular, cingulate, and parietal cortices, as well as differences in subcortical regions associated with reward processing. However, little is known about the structural differences in adolescents with behavioural indications of early stage ED.


This is the first study to investigate structural brain changes in adolescents newly diagnosed with ED compared to healthy controls (HC), and to study whether ED cognitions correlate with structural changes in adolescents with ED of short duration.


Fifteen adolescent females recently diagnosed with ED, and 28 age-matched HC individuals, were scanned with structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Whole-brain and region-of-interest analyses were conducted using voxel-based morphometry (VBM). ED cognitions were measured with self-report questionnaires and working memory performance was measured with a neuropsychological computerized test.


The left superior temporal gyrus had a smaller volume in adolescents with ED than in HC, which correlated with ED cognitions (concerns about eating, weight, and shape). Working memory reaction time correlated positively with insula volumes in ED participants, but not HC. In ED, measurements of restraint and obsession was negatively correlated with temporal gyrus volumes, and positively correlated with cerebellar and striatal volumes. Thus, adolescents with a recent diagnosis of ED had volumetric variations in brain areas linked to ED cognitions, obsessions, and working memory. The findings emphasize the importance of early identification of illness, before potential long-term effects on structure and behaviour occur.


Eating disorders; MRI; adolescents; anorexia nervosa; eating disorders not otherwise specified

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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