J Psychiatry Neurosci 2015;40(3):269-279
Karl-Jürgen Bär, MD; Feliberto de la Cruz; Sandy Berger, MD; Carl Christoph Schultz, MD; Gerd Wagner, PhD
Background: The dysfunction of specific brain areas might account for the distortion of body image in patients with anorexia nervosa. The present study was designed to reveal brain regions that are abnormal in structure and function in patients with this disorder. We hypothesized, based on brain areas of altered activity in patients with anorexia nervosa and regions involved in pain processing, an interrelation of structural aberrations in the frontoparietal–cingulate network and aberrant functional activation during thermal pain processing in patients with the disorder.
Methods: We determined pain thresholds outside the MRI scanner in patients with anorexia nervosa and matched healthy controls. Thereafter, thermal pain stimuli were applied during fMRI imaging. Structural analyses with high-resolution structural T1-weighted volumes were performed using voxel-based morphometry and a surface-based approach.
Results: Twenty-six patients and 26 controls participated in our study, and owing to technical difficulties, 15 participants in each group were included in our fMRI analysis. Structural analyses revealed significantly decreased grey matter volume and cortical thickness in the frontoparietal–cingulate network in patients with anorexia nervosa. We detected an increased blood oxygen level–dependent signal in patients during the painful 45°C condition in the midcingulate and posterior cingulate cortex, which positively correlated with increased pain thresholds. Decreased grey matter and cortical thickness correlated negatively with pain thresholds, symptom severity and illness duration, but not with body mass index.
Limitations: The lack of a specific quantification of body image distortion is a limitation of our study.
Conclusion: This study provides further evidence for confined structural and functional brain abnormalities in patients with anorexia nervosa in brain regions that are involved in perception and integration of bodily stimuli. The association of structural and functional deviations with thermal thresholds as well as with clinical characteristics might indicate a common neuronal origin.
Submitted July 11, 2014; Revised Oct. 23, 2014; Accepted Dec. 1, 2014; Early-released Mar. 31, 2015.
Affiliations: From the Psychiatric Brain & Body Research Group Jena, Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Jena University Hospital, Jena, Germany.
Competing interests: None declared.
Contributors: K. Bär, S. Berger and G. Wagner designed the study. F. de la Cruz, S. berger, C. Schultz and G. Wagner acquired the data, which K. Bär, F. de la Cruz and G. Wagner analyzed. K. Bär, S. Berger and G. Wagner wrote the article, which all authors reviewed and approved for publication.
Correspondence to: K.-J. Bär, Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University Hospital, Philosophenweg 3, 07743 Jena, Germany; Karl-Juergen.Baer@med.uni-jena.de