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N Engl J Med. 1986 May 22;314(21):1335-42.

Abnormal hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal function in anorexia nervosa. Pathophysiologic mechanisms in underweight and weight-corrected patients.


To study the pathophysiology of hypercortisolism in patients with anorexia nervosa, we examined plasma ACTH and cortisol responses to ovine corticotropin-releasing hormone before and after correction of weight loss. We also studied patients with bulimia whose weight was normal, since this disorder has been suspected to be a variant of anorexia nervosa. Before their weight loss was corrected, the anorexic patients had marked hypercortisolism but normal basal plasma ACTH. The hypercortisolism was associated with a marked reduction in the plasma ACTH response to corticotropin-releasing hormone. When these patients were studied three to four weeks after their body weight had been restored to normal, the hypercortisolism had resolved but the abnormal response to corticotropin-releasing hormone remained unchanged. On the other hand, at least six months after correction of weight loss their responses were normal. The bulimic patients whose weight was normal also had a normal response to corticotropin-releasing hormone. We conclude that in underweight anorexics, the pituitary responds appropriately to corticotropin-releasing hormone, being restrained in its response by the elevated levels of cortisol. This suggests that hypercortisolism in anorexics reflects a defect at or above the hypothalamus. The return to eucortisolism soon after correction of the weight loss indicates resolution of this central defect despite persistence of abnormalities in adrenal function.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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