Hunger does not motivate reward in women remitted from anorexia nervosa

Christina E. Wierenga, Amanda Bischoff-Grethe, A. James Melrose, Zoe Irvine, Laura Torres, Ursula F. Bailer, Alan Simmons, Julie L. Fudge, Samuel M. McClure, Alice Ely, Walter H. Kaye

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

118 Scopus citations


Background Hunger enhances sensitivity to reward, yet individuals with anorexia nervosa (AN) are not motivated to eat when starved. This study investigated brain response to rewards during hunger and satiated states to examine whether diminished response to reward could underlie food restriction in AN. Methods Using a delay discounting monetary decision task known to discriminate brain regions contributing to processing of immediate rewards and cognitive control important for decision making regarding future rewards, we compared 23 women remitted from AN (RAN group; to reduce the confounding effects of starvation) with 17 healthy comparison women (CW group). Monetary rewards were used because the rewarding value of food may be confounded by anxiety in AN. Results Interactions of Group (RAN, CW) × Visit (hunger, satiety) revealed that, for the CW group, hunger significantly increased activation in reward salience circuitry (ventral striatum, dorsal caudate, anterior cingulate cortex) during processing of immediate reward, whereas satiety increased activation in cognitive control circuitry (ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, insula) during decision making. In contrast, brain response in reward and cognitive neurocircuitry did not differ during hunger and satiety in the RAN group. A main effect of group revealed elevated response in the middle frontal gyrus for the RAN group compared with the CW group. Conclusions Women remitted from AN failed to increase activation of reward valuation circuitry when hungry and showed elevated response in cognitive control circuitry independent of metabolic state. Decreased sensitivity to the motivational drive of hunger may explain the ability of individuals with AN to restrict food when emaciated. Difficulties in valuating emotional salience may contribute to inabilities to appreciate the risks inherent in this disorder.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number12353
Pages (from-to)642-652
Number of pages11
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Decision making
  • Delay discounting
  • Eating disorders
  • Functional MRI
  • Reward processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biological Psychiatry


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