Physiol Behav. 2005 Sep 15;86(1-2):15-7.

Brain imaging of serotonin after recovery from anorexia and bulimia nervosa.

Kaye WH, Bailer UF, Frank GK, Wagner A, Henry SE.

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

Anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia nervosa (BN) are related disorders with relatively homogenous presentations such as age of onset and gender distribution. In addition, they share symptoms, such as extremes of food consumption, body image distortion, anxiety and obsessions, and ego-syntonic neglect. Taken together, these observations raise the possibility that these symptoms reflect disturbed brain function, which contributes to the pathophysiology of these illnesses. Several lines of evidence suggest that disturbances of serotonin (5-HT) pathways play a role. First, 5-HT pathways contribute to the modulation of feeding, mood, and impulse control. Second, medications that act on 5-HT pathways have some degree of efficacy in individuals with AN and BN. Third, such disturbances are present when subjects are ill and persist after recovery, suggesting that 5-HT alterations may be traits that are independent of the state of the illness. Positron emission tomography (PET) with radioligands offers an opportunity to directly characterize brain 5-HT pathways and their relationship with behavior. For example, reduced 5-HT(2A) receptor function occurs in AN whereas increased 5-HT(1A) receptor function occurs in BN. Moreover, imaging studies correlate altered 5-HT(1A) and 5-HT(2A) receptor function with traits often found in individuals with AN and BN, such as harm avoidance. Finally, alteration of these receptors tends to implicate pathways involving frontal, cingulate, temporal, and parietal regions. Alterations of these circuits may affect mood and impulse control as well as the motivating and hedonic aspects of feeding behavior. Such imaging studies may offer insights into new pharmacology and psychotherapy approaches.

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