The Impact of Acute Stress on the Neural Processing of Food Cues in Bulimia Nervosa: Replication in Two Samples

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The impact of acute stress on the neural processing of food cues in bulimia nervosa (BN) is unknown, despite theory that acute stress decreases cognitive control over food and hence increases vulnerability to environmental triggers for binge eating. Thus, the goals of this manuscript were to explore the impact of acute stress on the neural processing of food cues in BN. In Study 1, 10 women with Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.; DSM–5; American Psychiatric Association, 2013) BN and 10 healthy controls participated in an fMRI paradigm examining the neural correlates of visual food cue processing pre and post an acute stress induction. Whole brain analysis indicated that women with BN exhibited significant decreases in activation in the precuneus, associated with self-referential processing, the paracingulate gyrus, and the anterior vermis of the cerebellum. Healthy controls exhibited increased activation in these regions in response to food cues poststress. In Study 2, 17 women with DSM–5 BN or otherwise specified feeding and eating disorder with BN symptoms participated in the same paradigm. A region of interest analysis replicated findings from Study 1. Replication of imaging findings in 2 different samples suggests the potential importance of these regions in relation to BN. Decreased activation in the precuneus, specifically, is consistent with models of BN that posit that binge eating serves as a concrete distraction from aversive internal stimuli.

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