Imaging for a better understanding of Anorexia Nervosa

12:33 pm 4 Oct 2016

Anorexia Nervosa (AN) is a serious psychiatric condition characterised by significantly low body weight and a fear of weight gain. A disturbance in the experience of one’s own body weight or shape is a core feature of the illness, which has a mortality rate among the highest of any mental illness. Thus, it is critical to gain a better understanding of the neurobiological basis of the illness which currently remains unclear.

The potential neurobiological underpinnings of AN have typically been investigated with the use of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), in which brain states evoked during an experimental and a control condition are compared, with the aim of elucidating task-specific activations. Recently, however, researchers have begun to investigate synchronous brain activity at rest to examine ‘functional connectivity’ between brain regions. The term ‘functional connectivity’ is used to signify the correlation of activity time courses between brain regions. The examination of functional connectivity at rest provides information about neuronal communication in the brain, and how integration of information may relate to behaviour.

A study completed by the collaborators from University of Melbourne, Swinburne University of Technology node, Austin & St. Vincent’s hospitals, and Monash University & the Alfred hospital examined functional connectivity between sensorimotor and visual brain regions in AN. 26 females with AN and 27 healthy controls participated in this study and underwent a resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging scan at the neuroimaging facility at Swinburne University of Technology node. AN patients showed reduced functional connectivity between visual regions and sensorimotor regions, relative to healthy controls. These findings suggest that reduced functional connectivity between somatosensory and early visual regions may be related to visuospatial processing deficits in AN, and their misperception of body size. Gaining a better understanding of how deficits in visuospatial processing and reduced functional connectivity within these networks relate to AN may facilitate the development of more effective treatments in the future, specifically designed to improve these disturbances in the illness.
For more information on this study, contact Andrea Phillipou (



Department of Optometry & Vision Sciences and Department of Psychiatry, The University of Melbourne
Department of Mental Health, The Austin Hospital
Department of Psychiatry, St Vincent’s Hospital
Faculty of Health Sciences, Australian Catholic University
Brain and Psychological Sciences Research Centre, Swinburne University of Technology
Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre, Monash University and The Alfred Hospital

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