Neural response to angry and disgusted facial expressions in bulimia nervosa.
Ashworth F., Pringle A., Norbury R., Harmer CJ., Cowen PJ., Cooper MJ.
BACKGROUND: Processing emotional facial expressions is of interest in eating disorders (EDs) as impairments in recognizing and understanding social cues might underlie the interpersonal difficulties experienced by these patients. Disgust and anger are of particular theoretical and clinical interest. The current study investigated the neural response to facial expressions of anger and disgust in bulimia nervosa (BN). METHOD: Participants were 12 medication-free women with BN in an acute episode (mean age 24 years), and 16 age-, gender- and IQ-matched healthy volunteers (HVs). Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to examine neural responses to angry and disgusted facial expressions. RESULTS: Compared with HVs, patients with BN had a decreased neural response in the precuneus to facial expressions of both anger and disgust and a decreased neural response to angry facial expressions in the right amygdala. CONCLUSIONS: The neural response to emotional facial expressions in BN differs from that found in HVs. The precuneus response may be consistent with the application of mentalization theory to EDs, and the amygdala response with relevant ED theory. The findings are preliminary, but novel, and require replication in a larger sample.