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J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2018 Jul;59(7):752-762. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12840. Epub 2017 Nov 8.

A longitudinal functional magnetic resonance imaging study of task control circuits and bulimic symptoms over adolescence.

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Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, New York State Psychiatric Institute, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA.
Department of Psychiatry, College of Physicians & Surgeons, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA.
Department of Psychology, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY, USA.
Eating Disorders Research Unit, Division of Clinical Therapeutics, Department of Psychiatry, College of Physicians & Surgeons, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA.



Previous cross-sectional findings from adolescents and adults with Bulimia Nervosa (BN) suggest disturbances in fronto-striatal and cingulo-opercular task control circuits that support self-regulatory processes, including the resolution of cognitive conflict. Herein, we used longitudinal data to examine the developmental trajectories of such disturbances and how the functioning of these circuits relates to changes in BN symptoms over adolescence.


Thirty-two adolescent females with BN symptoms and 28 healthy control (HC) adolescents participated in the study. Functional magnetic resonance images (fMRI) during performance of a Simon task were acquired at three time points within 2-year intervals over adolescence. From the initial sample, 70% and 30% of the participants completed the second and third time points, respectively. Participants who completed all study time points did not differ from those lost to attrition on baseline demographic characteristics or any outcome measures. Using a region-of-interest approach, growth curve models tested group differences in the trajectory of conflict-related activation in task control circuits over time. Cross-lagged panel models examined transactional relationships between conflict-related activation in the same regions and BN symptoms over time.


Growth curve models revealed different trajectories of conflict-related activation in right task control regions across BN and HC adolescents, such that HC but not BN adolescents showed activation decreases over time. These group differences were greatest when including only the BN adolescents whose symptoms remitted over time. Cross-lagged panel models revealed that less frequent bulimic episodes at first follow-up predicted later increases in conflict-related activation in bilateral task control regions.


These longitudinal findings suggest overengagement of task control circuits in BN adolescents, especially those most resilient to persistent illness. Such overengagement may compensate for regulatory disturbances, allowing them to regulate eating behaviors over development. Thus, task control circuits may constitute targets for early interventions that enhance self-regulatory control.


Bulimia Nervosa; adolescence; functional magnetic resonance images; longitudinal studies; self-control

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