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Biol Psychiatry. 1998 Nov 1;44(9):825-38.

Serotonin neuronal function and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor treatment in anorexia and bulimia nervosa.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine, Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, PA 15213, USA.


Anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia nervosa (BN) are disorders characterized by aberrant patterns of feeding behavior and weight regulation, and disturbances in attitudes toward weight and shape and the perception of body shape. Emerging data support the possibility that substantial biologic and genetic vulnerabilities contribute to the pathogenesis of AN and BN. Multiple neuroendocrine and neurotransmitter abnormalities have been documented in AN and BN, but for the most part, these disturbances are state-related and tend to normalize after symptom remission and weight restoration; however, elevated concentrations of 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid in the cerebrospinal fluid after recovery suggest that altered serotonin activity in AN and BN is a trait-related characteristic. Elevated serotonin activity is consistent with behaviors found after recovery from AN and BN, such as obsessionality with symmetry and exactness, harm avoidance, perfectionism, and behavioral over control. In BN, serotonergic modulating antidepressant medications suppress symptoms independently of their antidepressant effects. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are not useful when AN subjects are malnourished and under-weight; however, when given after weight restoration, fluoxetine may significantly reduce the extremely high rate of relapse normally seen in AN. Nonresponse to SSRI medication in ill AN subjects could be a consequence of an inadequate supply of nutrients, which are essential to normal serotonin synthesis and function. These data raise the possibility that a disturbance of serotonin activity may create a vulnerability for the expression of a cluster of symptoms that are common to both AN and BN and that nutritional factors may affect SSRI response in depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or other conditions characterized by disturbances in serotonergic pathways.

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