Probing the Neural substrates of Bulimia Nervosa

2020 Award: $39,065

This study will use MRI technology to follow how ovarian hormones affect symptoms of bulimia such as binge eating.

Need/Problem: Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder that afflicts approximately 3% of individuals and is associated with a number of negative consequences. There is also a disconnect between the burden of bulimia nervosa and the availability of effective treatments. Our limited understanding of what causes bulimia nervosa is hindering progress on the development of new treatments.

Grant Summary: We will study if activity in the brain changes when exposed to different reproductive hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, in women with bulimia nervosa.

Goals and Projected Outcomes: Having a better understanding of what causes bulimia nervosa may lead to the development of targeted treatments with better effectiveness than those currently available. Improved treatments may ultimately reduce the burden and mortality associated with bulimia nervosa.

Jessica Baker, PhD

Crystal Schiller, PhD

Grant Details: Brain imaging studies suggest that women with bulimia nervosa may exhibit differences in brain activity when presented with a reward compared with women without bulimia nervosa. How the brain responds to rewards changes in a predictable pattern over the course of the menstrual cycle, but it is unknown whether the brain’s response to reward during different reproductive hormonal milieus causes changes to eating behaviors in women with bulimia nervosa. In this proposal, we will compare brain activity in response to reward in women with bulimia nervosa who are participating in a separate research study examining the direct effect of reproductive hormones on eating behaviors. As part of this separate study, women will take hormone medications in order to change their estrogen and progesterone levels. The current study allows us to add a neuroimaging component, which will address whether brain activity changes occur during hormone administration. Unraveling how reproductive hormones impact brain activity in women with bulimia nervosa and whether this, in turn, causes changes in eating behaviors, may lead to the development of novel and targeted treatments for bulimia nervosa in the future.