Eating Disorders and Other Neuroendocrine Syndromes

Current Research

Our group currently focuses on using a range of neuropsychological, psychophysiological, imaging, and hormonal tools to characterize key aspects of eating pathology and apply them to novel treatments for patients with eating, weight, and body image disorders.

Hormonal Basis of Reward and Aversive Learning in Patients with Eating and Weight Disorders

The effects of chronic and periodic starvation have profound effects on the hypothalamic regulatory systems that affect reproductive health, stress, and growth, particularly in adolescence. We are pioneering studies of the role of the neuroendocrine system in food and body image signals, in an effort to better understand how gonadal and appetitive hormones regulate approach and avoidance behavior to food and body image cues. We are also exploring how variability in these systems may contribute to relapse over time.

Scientists involved: Christoph Buettner, Wayne Goodman, Rebecca Greif, Tom Hildebrandt, Charles Mobbs, Daniela Schiller, Kurt Schulz

Psychophysiology and fMRI Modeling of Emotional Response to Food

Many individuals with eating and weight disorders are known to experience difficulties identifying, experiencing, and regulating emotions particularly in the context of food. Our group has several studies examining the unique psychophysiology of individual responses to emotional stimuli or food stimuli and the neurocircuitry that subserves these psychophysiological responses.  For example, we are currently using fMRI in tandem with electromyography to characterize coherence of unique emotions (e.g., disgust, pleasure, etc.) and brain activation (e.g., insula-amygdala connectivity).

Scientists involved: Rebecca Greif, Erin Hazlett, Tom Hildebrandt, Daniela Schiller, Kurt Schulz

PET Imaging in Anorexia Nervosa

Relapse is a chronic problem among individuals who suffer with anorexia nervosa and the neurobiology of relapse risk is poorly understood. Our team is currently using PET to characterize and test the predictive value of the endocannabinoid and opiate-stress systems in relapse among recently weight restored individuals with AN.  Our goal is to develop novel pharmacological, nutritional, and behavioral interventions to prevent relapse.

Scientists involved: Tom Hildebrandt

Brain Imaging in Appearance and Performance Enhancing Drug Users

Anabolic-androgenic steroids (AASs) and other hormones are sometimes used for the purposes of improving physical performance or outward appearance. The acute and long-term cognitive side effects of this type of drug use remain unknown. Our group is currently investigating neuroendocrine and functional changes in the central nervous system in response to these drugs in an effort to define the neurobiological effects on cognition, behavior, and mood caused by excess androgen use.

Scientists involved: Anat Biegon, Tom Hildebrandt, David Mozley

Clinical Trials and Novel Treatments

Building on our translational findings, we have developed a novel mirror exposure therapy designed to alter emotional responses to one's own body. We have also created a family-based interoceptive exposure to food and eating for those with distinct disgust responses to food that helps patients reduce internal sensations that facilitate food avoidance and craving and improves their relationship with food. In addition, we have developed a smartphone technology to facilitate brief eating disorder interventions among those who binge eat.