Neural network alterations across eating disorders: A narrative review of fMRI studies

Trevor Steward, José M. Menchón, Susana Jiménez-Murcia, Carles Soriano-Mas, Fernando Fernández-Aranda

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© 2018 Bentham Science Publishers. Background: Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has provided insight on how neural abnormalities are related to the symptomatology of the eating disorders (EDs): anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (BN), and binge eating disorder (BED). More specifically, an increasingly growing number of brain imaging studies has shed light on how functionally connected brain networks contribute not only to disturbed eating behavior, but also to transdiagnostic alterations in body/interoceptive perception, reward processing and executive functioning. Methods: This narrative review aims to summarize recent advances in fMRI studies of patients with EDs by highlighting studies investigating network alterations that are shared across EDs. Results and Conclusion: Findings on reward processing in both AN and BN patients point to the presence of altered sensitivity to salient food stimuli in striatal regions and to the possibility of hypothalamic inputs being overridden by top-down emotional-cognitive control regions. Additionally, innovative new lines of research suggest that increased activations in fronto-striatal circuits are strongly associated with the maintenance of restrictive eating habits in AN patients. Although significantly fewer studies have been carried out in patients with BN and BED, aberrant neural responses to both food cues and anticipated food receipt appear to occur in these populations. These altered responses, coupled with diminished recruitment of prefrontal cognitive control circuitry, are believed to contribute to the binge eating of palatable foods. Results from functional network connectivity studies are diverse, but findings tend to converge on indicating disrupted resting-state connectivity in executive networks, the default-mode network and the salience network across EDs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1150-1163
JournalCurrent Neuropharmacology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018


  • Anorexia
  • Binge eating disorder
  • Bulimia
  • Eating disorders
  • fMRI
  • Neuroimaging


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