Grey matter correlates of autistic traits in women with anorexia nervosa

Grey matter correlates of autistic traits in women with anorexia nervosa

J Psychiatry Neurosci 2017;43(1):170072

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Malin Björnsdotter, MSc, PhD;* Monika Davidovic, MSc, MD, PhD;* Louise Karjalainen, MSc, PhD; Göran Starck, MSc, PhD; Håkan Olausson, MD, PhD; Elisabet Wentz, MD, PhD

Abstract

Background: Patients with anorexia nervosa exhibit higher levels of behaviours typically associated with autism-spectrum disorder (ASD), but the neural basis is unclear. We sought to determine whether elevated autistic traits in women with anorexia nervosa may be reflected in cortical morphology. Methods: We used voxel-based morphometry (VBM) to examine regional grey matter volumes in high-resolution MRI structural brain scans in women with anorexia nervosa and matched healthy controls. The Autism-spectrum Quotient (AQ) scale was used to assess autistic traits. Results: Women with anorexia nervosa (n = 25) had higher AQ scores and lower bilateral superior temporal sulcus (STS) grey matter volumes than the control group (n = 25). The AQ scores correlated negatively with average left STS grey matter volume in women with anorexia nervosa. Limitations: We did not control for cognitive ability and examined only women with ongoing anorexia nervosa. Conclusion: Elevated autistic traits in women with anorexia nervosa are associated with morphometric alterations of brain areas linked to social cognition. This finding provides neurobiological support for the behavioural link between anorexia nervosa and ASD and emphasizes the importance of recognizing autistic traits in preventing and treating anorexia nervosa.