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Does a Shared Neurobiology for Foods and Drugs of Abuse Contribute to Extremes of Food Ingestion in Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa?

Published:February 04, 2013DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2013.01.002
      Is starvation in anorexia nervosa (AN) or overeating in bulimia nervosa (BN) a form of addiction? Alternatively, why are individuals with BN more vulnerable and individuals with AN protected from substance abuse? Such questions have been generated by recent studies suggesting that there are overlapping neural circuits for foods and drugs of abuse. To determine whether a shared neurobiology contributes to eating disorders and substance abuse, this review focused on imaging studies that investigated response to tastes of food and tasks designed to characterize reward and behavioral inhibition in AN and BN. BN and those with substance abuse disorders may share dopamine D2 receptor–related vulnerabilities, and opposite findings may contribute to “protection” from substance abuse in AN. Moreover, imaging studies provide insights into executive corticostriatal processes related to extraordinary inhibition and self-control in AN and diminished inhibitory self-control in BN that may influence the rewarding aspect of palatable foods and likely other consummatory behaviors. AN and BN tend to have premorbid traits, such as perfectionism and anxiety that make them vulnerable to using extremes of food ingestion, which serve to reduce negative mood states. Dysregulation within and/or between limbic and executive corticostriatal circuits contributes to such symptoms. Limited data support the hypothesis that reward and inhibitory processes may contribute to symptoms in eating disorders and addictive disorders, but little is known about the molecular biology of such mechanisms in terms of shared or independent processes.

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