Neural differences in self-perception during illness and after weight-recovery in anorexia nervosa


Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a severe mental illness characterized by problems with self-perception. Whole-brain neural activations in healthy women, women with AN and women in long-term weight recovery following AN were compared using two functional magnetic resonance imaging tasks probing different aspects of self-perception. The Social Identity-V2 task involved consideration about oneself and others using socially descriptive adjectives. Both the ill and weight-recovered women with AN engaged medial prefrontal cortex less than healthy women for self-relevant cognitions, a potential biological trait difference. Weight-recovered women also activated the inferior frontal gyri and dorsal anterior cingulate more for direct self-evaluations than for reflected self-evaluations, unlike both other groups, suggesting that recovery may include compensatory neural changes related to social perspectives. The Faces task compared viewing oneself to a stranger. Participants with AN showed elevated activity in the bilateral fusiform gyri for self-images, unlike the weight-recovered and healthy women, suggesting cognitive distortions about physical appearance are a state rather than trait problem in this disease. Because both ill and recovered women showed neural differences related to social self-perception, but only recovered women differed when considering social perspectives, these neurocognitive targets may be particularly important for treatment.



eating disorders, medial prefrontal cortex, self-reflection, fMRI, psychiatry