The Clinical Significance of Posterior Insular Volume in Adolescent Anorexia Nervosa

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The diagnostic criterion disturbance in the experience of the body remains a poorly understood and persistent feature of anorexia nervosa (AN). Increased sophistication in understanding the structure of the insular cortex—a neural structure that receives and integrates visceral sensations with action and meaning—may elucidate the nature of this disturbance. We explored age, weight status, illness severity, and self-reported body dissatisfaction associations with insular cortex volume.


Structural magnetic resonance imaging data were collected from 21 adolescents with a history of AN and 20 age-, sex-, and body mass index–matched controls. Insular cortical volumes (bilateral anterior and posterior regions) were identified using manual tracing.


Volumes of the right posterior insula demonstrated the following: (a) a significant age by clinical status interaction (β = −0.018 [0.008]; t = 2.32, p = .02) and (b) larger volumes were associated with longer duration of illness (r = 0.48, p < .04). In contrast, smaller volumes of the right anterior insula were associated with longer duration of illness (r = −0.50, p < .03). The associations of insular volume with body dissatisfaction were of moderate effect size and also of opposite direction, but a statistical trend in right posterior (r = 0.40, p < .10 in right posterior; r = −0.49, p < .04 in right anterior).


In this exploratory study, findings of atypical structure of the right posterior insular cortex point to the importance of future work investigating the role of visceral afferent signaling in understanding disturbance in body experience in AN.

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