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Brain research reveals new hope for patients with anorexia nervosa

Researchers from the Translational Developmental Neuroscience Lab led by Professor at the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychotherapy of the at the TU Dresden (Faculty of Medicine) used state-of-the-art magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques to investigate the consequences of on brain structure. Their novel findings obtained by measuring “cortical thickness” for the first time in the eating disorder are now published in the renowned journal Biological Psychiatry. The authors conclude, “The global thinning of cortical gray matter observed in acutely ill adolescent patients can be completely reversed following successful weight rehabilitation therapy”.

Previous studies of changes in brain structure associated with anorexia nervosa were limited in their ability to clarify important questions regarding the regional specificity and persistence of anomalies following therapy. In contrast, the analysis strategies employed by the Dresdener scientists in their large sample of both acutely ill and long-term recovered patients allowed for precise measurement of cortical gray matter on a sub-millimeter scale at over 100,000 locations across the entire surface of the brain. Prof. Stefan Ehrlich explained, “Not only the spatial expanse but also the magnitude of cortical gray matter thinning in acute anorexia nervosa is noteworthy – comparable to that typically observed in Alzheimer’s disease.”

Study participants underwent MRI scanning immediately following admission to specialized eating disorder clinics at the Dresdener University Hospital and following successful therapy with complete restoration of normal weight, eating behavior and menstruation. Roughly half of the patients that receive treatment successfully maintain these criteria – it is an extremely long road to long-term recovery for those afflicted with anorexia nervosa.

“We observed complete normalization of cortical gray matter thickness in the long-term weight rehabilitated patients in our sample”, exclaimed Prof. Ehrlich, “which is a particularly encouraging finding for those suffering from the disorder.” However, while this study shows that changes in brain structure can improve with therapy, anorexia nervosa may have other serious long-term consequences that are not reversible, such as reduction of bone mass due to osteoporosis.

FOCUS-Ranking TOP-Physicians 2014

The German news magazine “Focus” publishes highly-influential ranking lists of experts from various fields of medicine based on data independently collected from e.g. medical specialist societies, recommendations from clinic directors, patient and self-help groups. In 2014, the Focus-Ranking declared Prof. Stefan Ehrlich “Top-Physician” in the field of eating disorders.

A major focus of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychotherapy of the University Hospital Carl Gustav Carus at the TU Dresden is the treatment of eating disorders. Drawn by this expertise, patients come from every corner of Germany to receive state-of-the-art therapy. Among the services provided at the “Eating Disorders Treatment and Research Center” include a specialized inpatient unit, outpatient clinic and a family day clinic.


Global Cortical Thinning in Acute Anorexia Nervosa Normalizes Following Long-Term Weight Restoration, Joseph A. King, Daniel Geisler, Franziska Ritschel, Ilka Schober, Maria Seidel, Benjamin Roschinski, Laura Soltwedel, Johannes Zwipp, Gerit Pfuhl, PhD, Michael Marxen, PhD, Veit Roessner, MD, Stefan Ehrlich, MD, Biological Psychiatry, DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2014.09.005, published online 20 September 2014.

Source: Technische Universitaet Dresden