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Anorexia linked to brain activity

May 25, 2022

Researchers have uncovered a link between anorexia and abnormal brain circuit activity, opening the door to a possible treatment strategy for the eating disorder and mental health condition.

Researchers have uncovered a link between anorexia and abnormal brain circuit activity

Scientists from Baylor College of Medicine, Louisiana State University and collaborating institutions worked with an animal model of the disease, which mimicked the characteristics displayed in human sufferers.

The team found that genetically and pharmacologically restoring normal activity in the affected brain circuit improved symptoms, putting a stop to excessive exercising and weight loss.

Previous research had suggested a link between anorexia, and dysfunctional dopamine and serotonin neurons, which regulate feeding.

In the study, researchers revealed that the strength of signals transmitted along the brain’s dopamine-serotonin circuit played a role in determining how much animals would eat.

When dopamine neurons fired lower-frequency signals, serotonin neurons were inhibited, which reduced overeating behaviour. However, higher-frequency dopamine neurons activated serotonin neurons, which led to a lack of feeding.

Researchers then investigated whether the dopamine-serotonin circuit contributed to anorexic behaviours in a mouse model.

They uncovered that the DRD1 protein-coding gene was a key cause of hyperactivity in the dopamine-serotonin brain circuit.

Knocking out the DRD1 gene partially stabilized the animals’ eating and exercise behaviours.

While anorexia is thought to account for just 8% of the 1.25 million cases of eating disorders in the UK, it has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disease. Little is known about its underlying causes, and there is currently no approved treatment.

Long-term anorexia can lead to severe health problems normally associated with malnutrition including fertility issues, poor circulation, irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure, heart valve disease, heart failure, and swelling in the feet, hands or face as well as problems with the brain and nerves.

Anorexia usually begins during the teen years or young adulthood. It is most common in females but may also be seen in males.

Related: ‘Five a day’ link to children’s mental health

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