Exploring neural mechanisms related to cognitive control, reward, and affect in eating disorders: A narrative review of fmri studies

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Studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have contributed to our understanding of possible neural abnormalities among individuals with eating disorders. Many of these studies have focused on three domains: 1) cognitive control, 2) reward processing, and 3) affective processing. This review attempts to summarize the recent fMRI findings across these domains among the most well-characterized eating disorders: anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (BN), and binge eating disorder (BED). Though the literature is a bit murky, a few major themes have emerged. Cognitive control systems are affected among individuals across eating disorder diagnoses, but effects seem least pro-nounced in AN. Specifically, individuals with all eating disorders appear to show decreased prefrontal activation during cognitive control, but there is less evidence in AN linking decreased prefrontal activation with behavior. There is some evidence that the reinforcing value of food is reduced in AN, but individuals with BN and BED show hyperactivation to rewarding food-related stimuli, suggesting the reinforcing value of food may be enhanced. However, more complex reward processing paradigms show that individuals with BN and BED exhibit hypoactivation to reward anticipation and provide mixed results with regards to reward receipt. There are fewer neuroimaging findings related to affective processing, yet behavioral findings suggest affective processing is important in understanding eating dis-orders. Though the extant literature is complicated, these studies represent a foundation from which to build and provide insight into potential neurobiological mechanisms that may contribute to the pathophysiology of eating disorders.




Wonderlich, J. A., Bershad, M., & Steinglass, J. E. (2021). Exploring neural mechanisms related to cognitive control, reward, and affect in eating disorders: A narrative review of fmri studies. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. Dove Medical Press Ltd. https://doi.org/10.2147/NDT.S282554

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