New research conducted in adolescent rodents provides insights on the mechanisms behind anorexia nervosa and points to a potential treatment strategy.
In experiments involving food restriction and/or exercise, investigators found that the extent to which certain receptors are expressed in neurons in a particular region of the brain can influence whether an adolescent female rat develops anorexia nervosa-like behavior, such as to exercise, rather than eat, in spite of being hungry.
The findings suggest that a risk factor for anorexia may be under-expression of these receptors, called α4βδ -GABAA receptors, following stress. Therefore, boosting the activity of these receptors may be a promising treatment strategy.
"Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, surpassing even that of depression, and currently, there are no accepted pharmacological treatments," said Dr. Chiye Aoki, lead author of the Journal of Neuroscience Research article. "This makes the pursuit of effective medications particularly important. Rodent models enable scientists to separate cultural influences from the neurobiological basis of behaviors that are present in the illness."