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Restrictive food intake in anorexia nervosa (AN) has been related to an overactive cognitive control network inhibiting intuitive motivational responses to food stimuli. However, the influence of short-term homeostatic signaling on the neural regulation of cue-induced food craving in AN is still unclear.
Twenty-five women with AN and 25 matched normal-weight women were examined on two occasions after receiving either glucose or water directly into their stomach using a nasogastric tube. Participants were blinded to the type of infusion. An event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging paradigm was used to investigate the effect of intestinal glucose load on neural processing during either simple viewing or distraction from food stimuli.
Neural differences between patients with AN and normal-weight participants were found during the distraction from food stimuli, but not during the viewing condition. When compared to controls, patients with AN displayed increased activation during food distraction in the left parietal lobule/precuneus and fusiform gyrus after water infusion and decreased activation in ventromedial prefrontal and cingulate regions after intestinal glucose load.
Independent of the cephalic phase and the awareness of caloric intake, homeostatic influences trigger disorder-specific reactions in AN. Food distraction in patients with AN is associated with either excessive higher-order cognitive control during physiological hunger or decreased internally directed attention after intestinal glucose load. These findings suggest that food distraction plays an important role in the psychopathology of AN. This study was registered on clinicaltrials.gov with identifier: NCT03075371.
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