Brain Imaging of Reward in Eating Disorders: Possible Key to Treatment

Anorexia Nervosa (AN) and Bulimia Nervosa (BN) are severe Eating Disorders (EDs) whose cause and abnormal development are still unknown. Clinical experience suggests that EDs may develop as reward-dependent disorders, since eating less food is perceived as rewarding in AN, while consumption of large amounts of food during binge episodes in BN aims to reduce the person’s negative emotions. Therefore, brain reward mechanisms have been a major focus of research in the attempt to understand the cause and development of EDs. Brain imaging data has shown that brain reward circuits may be altered in EDs, including those related to food stimuli, body image cues, food restriction, and increased physical activity. In addition, it was recently noted that some internal regulators of eating behavior (leptin, the “fullness” hormone, and ghrelin, the “hungry” hormone) are associated with both food and non-food related rewards, indicating a possible link between abnormal eating behaviors and altered reward processes in EDs. On the basis of these findings, new models of the development of EDs have been proposed, which may suggest new treatment strategies (therapy or medications), with the aim to improve the experiences of those with EDs.


Moteleone, A.M., Castellini, G., Volpe, U., Ricca, V., Lelli, L., Monteleone, P., Maj, M. Neuroendocrinology and brain imaging of reward in eating disorders: A possible key to the treatment of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry. (2018). 80, 132-142. 



Heather, MSW, LICSW, QCSW, ACSW has served on the Board of the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) since 2013, and collaborates with her NEDA colleagues on Eating Disorder research studies, papers, and presentations. Through her position at Brown University Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, she has also been collaborating with her local Rhode Island Hospital/Hasbro Children’s Hospital Eating Disorders Partial Hospital, Outpatient, and Home-Based clinical programs since 2013.  Heather had Anorexia Nervosa for 23 years, and has been recovered since 2012.

liana rosenmanComment