Our group 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.
Our research is focused on a number of different areas.
Hormonal Basis of Reward and Aversive Learning in Patients with Eating and Weight Disorders
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 understand better 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.
Psychophysiology and fMRI Modeling of Emotional Response to Food
Many people with eating and weight disorders face difficulties identifying, experiencing, and regulating emotions, particularly about food. Our group has several studies examining the unique psychophysiology of individual responses to emotional stimuli or food stimuli and the neurocircuitry that leads to these psychophysiological responses. For example, we are currently using fMRI in tandem with electromyography to characterize coherence of unique emotions (such as disgust or pleasure) and brain activation (such as insula-amygdala connectivity).
PET Imaging in Anorexia Nervosa
Relapse is a chronic problem among people 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 people with Anorexia Nervosa. 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 to improve 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.
Clinical Trials and Novel Treatments
Building on our translational findings, we have developed a novel mirror exposure therapy designed to alter emotional responses to your body. We have also created a family-based interoceptive exposure to food and eating for people with distinct disgust responses to food. This 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 for those who binge eat.