Dopamine and anorexia nervosa

We have suggested that reduced food intake increases the risk for anorexia nervosa by engaging mesolim- bic dopamine neurons, thereby initially rewarding dieting. Recent fMRI studies have confirmed that dopamine neurons are activated in anorexia nervosa, but it is not clear whether this response is due to the disorder or to its resulting nutritional deficit. When the body senses the shortage of nutrients, it rapidly shifts behavior toward foraging for food as a normal physiological response and the mesolimbic dopamine neurons may be involved in that process. On the other hand, the altered dopamine status of anorexics has been suggested to result from a brain abnormality that underlies their complex emotional disorder. We suggest that the outcomes of the treatments that emerge from that perspective remain poor because they target the mental symptoms that are actually the consequences of the food deprivation that accompanies anorexia. On the other hand, a method that normalizes the disordered eating behavior of anorexics results in much better physiological, behavioral, and emotional outcomes.


April 9, 2021