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Psychol Med. 2018 Jan;48(1):142-154. doi: 10.1017/S0033291717001635. Epub 2017 Jul 17.

Altered interoceptive activation before, during, and after aversive breathing load in women remitted from anorexia nervosa.

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Department of Psychiatry,University of California,San Diego, CA,USA.



The neural mechanisms of anorexia nervosa (AN), a severe and chronic psychiatric illness, are still poorly understood. Altered body state processing, or interoception, has been documented in AN, and disturbances in aversive interoception may contribute to distorted body perception, extreme dietary restriction, and anxiety. As prior data implicate a potential mismatch between interoceptive expectation and experience in AN, we examined whether AN is associated with altered brain activation before, during, and after an unpleasant interoceptive state change.


Adult women remitted from AN (RAN; n = 17) and healthy control women (CW; n = 25) underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging during an inspiratory breathing load paradigm.


During stimulus anticipation, the RAN group, relative to CW, showed reduced activation in right mid-insula. In contrast, during the aversive breathing load, the RAN group showed increased activation compared with CW in striatum and cingulate and prefrontal cortices (PFC). The RAN group also showed increased activation in PFC, bilateral insula, striatum, and amygdala after stimulus offset. Time course analyses indicated that RAN responses in interoceptive processing regions during breathing load increased more steeply than those of CW. Exploratory analyses revealed that hyperactivation after breathing load was associated with markers of past AN severity.


Anticipatory deactivation with a subsequent exaggerated brain response during and after an aversive body state may contribute to difficulty predicting and adapting to internal state fluctuation. Because eating changes our interoceptive state, restriction may be one method of avoiding aversive, unpredictable internal change in AN.


Anorexia nervosa; aversive; breathing load; functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI); interoception

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