Presse- und Öffentlichkeitsarbeit
Unternehmenskommunikation

Why anorexic patients cling to their eating disorder

03.08.2009
Impaired behavioral flexibility due to changes in the brain / Heidelberg researchers publish an article in the American Journal of Psychiatry

Anorexic patients drastically reduce food intake and are often not capable of changing their behavior. This can lead to life-threatening weight loss. Using MRI technology, scientists at Heidelberg University Hospital have discovered for the first time processes in brain metabolism that explain this disturbed eating behavior.

 

The research work of the Department of Psychosomatic and General Internal Medicine at Heidelberg University Hospital (Medical Director: Professor Dr. Wolfgang Herzog) arose in cooperation with the Heidelberg University Hospitals of General Psychiatry and Neurology. The results of the study were published in the prestigious American Journal of Psychiatry in June 2009.

 

Changes in brain activation associated with rigid behavior

 

Many young girls and women go on diets to achieve their ideal figure. Less than one percent of the population is affected by life-threatening anorexia. Despite intensive treatment, the course of the disorder is severe and chronic in 20 to 30 percent of the cases and about 10 percent of the patients die of the disease.

 

The Heidelberg researchers examined a total of 30 young women with and without anorexia by means of functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The MRI device recorded the level of blood flow in various areas of the brain. Greater blood flow indicates higher metabolism and thus greater activity in this area of the brain.

 

The participants underwent a test that measured their capacity for flexible behavior modification of recently learned behavior. In this test, the subjects were shown a rapid sequence of various geometric shapes and asked to match them. After one test run, the matching principle was changed.

 

 “In this study, we confirmed that anorexic patients cling to familiar behavioral responses more frequently than healthy subjects, thus suppressing alternative behavior," explained Dr. Hans-Christoph Friederich, head of the working group for eating disorders. The analysis of the MRI images also showed that in patients with anorexia compared with healthy subjects, a certain network pathway between the cortex and the diencephalon is less activated. This network pathway plays a decisive role in initiating and controlling actions under rapidly changing environmental demands.

 

New therapy approaches through brain research

 

The results of the study contribute decisively to a better understanding of anorexia. In particular, they make it clear that neurobiological factors are involved and sustain the clinical symptoms. Since psychological and neurobiological factors can influence each other, this may lead to new therapy approaches for anorexia.

 

"We have developed a treatment program for anorexia patients that specifically targets the flexible modification of behavioral responses,“ says Dr. Friederich.  In this way, the researchers hope to improve the success of psychotherapeutic treatment. The MRI examination of the brain could contribute to measure the success of treatment.

 

References:

Zastrow, A., Kaiser, S., Stippich, C., Walther, S., Herzog, W., Tchanturia, K., Belger, A., Weisbrod, M., Treasure, J. & Friederich, H. C. (2009). Neural correlates of impaired cognitive-behavioral flexibility in anorexia nervosa.  Am. J. Psychiatry 166, 608-616.

  

Contact person:

Dr. med. Hans-Christoph Friederich

Consultant, Center for Psychosocial Medicine

Department of Psychosomatic and General Internal Medicine

Heidelberg University Hospital

Thibautstr. 2

69115 Heidelberg

e-mail: hans-christoph_friederich@med.uni-heidelberg.de

 

Heidelberg University Hospital and Medical Faculty:

Internationally recognized patient care, research, and teaching 

Heidelberg University Hospital is one of the largest and most prestigious medical centers in Germany. The Medical Faculty of Heidelberg University belongs to the internationally most renowned biomedical research institutions in Europe. Both institutions have the common goal of developing new therapies and implementing them rapidly for patients. With about 7,000 employees, training and qualification is an important issue. Every year, around 500,000 patients are treated on an inpatient or outpatient basis in more than 40 clinics and departments with 1,600 beds. Currently, about 3,100 future physicians are studying in Heidelberg; the reform Heidelberg Curriculum Medicinale (HeiCuMed) is one of the top medical training programs in Germany.

 

Requests by journalists:

Dr. Annette Tuffs

Head of Public Relations and Press Department

University Hospital of Heidelberg and

Medical Faculty of Heidelberg

Im Neuenheimer Feld 672

D-69120 Heidelberg

Germany

phone:      +49 6221 / 56 45 36

fax:  +49 6221 / 56 45 44

e-mail: annette.tuffs(at)med.uni-heidelberg.de

 

23595 times viewed
Print Mail

For Requests

Dr. Annette Tuffs
Head of Public Relations and Press Department
phone: 06221 56-4536
fax: 06221 56-4544
Opens window for sending email annette.tuffs@med.uni-heidelberg.de

Julia Bird
Assistent
phone: 06221 56-7071
fax: 06221 56-4544
Opens window for sending email julia.bird@med.uni-heidelberg.de