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An imbalance in appetite-regulating neuropeptides of the central nervous system has been associated with anorexia nervosa (AN), but the mechanisms of action are poorly understood. Agouti-related protein (AGRP), an orexigenic mediator of the hypothalamus, increases food intake and decreases energy expenditure in times of negative energy balance. The aim of the present study was to investigate AGRP in acute and fully weight-restored patients with AN, as well as during weight gain.
Plasma AGRP and leptin levels were assessed using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay kit in a total of 175 female participants, including 75 patients with acute AN, 37 weight-restored AN patients and 63 healthy controls. Of the patients with acute AN, 33 were reassessed after partial weight gain.
In weight-restored AN patients plasma AGRP levels were similar to those in healthy controls, whereas in patients with acute AN, AGRP was elevated. AGRP was inversely correlated with indicators of undernutrition such as body mass index and plasma leptin. In addition, AGRP levels normalized during weight gain of longitudinally assessed AN patients.
Our results underline the significance of undernutrition and hypoleptinemia for the interpretation of peripheral AGRP concentrations. This provides support for the hypothesis that abnormal AGRP plasma levels in AN patients reflect undernutrition, rather than disease-specific traits.
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