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BACKGROUND: Anorexia nervosa (AN) often begins in adolescence, however, the understanding of the underlying pathophysiology at this developmentally important age is scarce, impeding early interventions. We used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to investigate microstructural white matter (WM) brain changes including an experimental longitudinal follow-up. METHODS: We acquired whole brain diffusion-weighted brain scans of 22 adolescent female hospitalized patients with AN at admission and nine patients longitudinally at discharge after weight rehabilitation. Patients (10-18 years) were compared to 21 typically developing controls (TD). Tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS) were applied to compare fractional anisotropy (FA) across groups and time points. Associations between average FA values of the global WM skeleton and weight as well as illness duration parameters were analyzed by multiple linear regression. RESULTS: We observed increased FA in bilateral frontal, parietal and temporal areas in AN patients at admission compared to TD. Higher FA of the global WM skeleton at admission was associated with faster weight loss prior to admission. Exploratory longitudinal analysis showed this FA increase to be partially normalized after weight rehabilitation. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings reveal a markedly different pattern of WM microstructural changes in adolescent AN compared to most previous results in adult AN. This could signify a different susceptibility and reaction to semi-starvation in the still developing brain of adolescents or a time-dependent pathomechanism differing with extend of chronicity. Higher FA at admission in adolescents with AN could point to WM fibers being packed together more closely.

Original publication




Journal article


Neuroimage Clin

Publication Date





614 - 621


Adolescence, Anorexia nervosa, DTI, Fractional anisotropy, TBSS, Adolescent, Analysis of Variance, Anisotropy, Anorexia Nervosa, Brain, Brain Mapping, Child, Diffusion Tensor Imaging, Female, Humans, Image Processing, Computer-Assisted, Longitudinal Studies, Psychiatric Status Rating Scales, Retrospective Studies, White Matter