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Concept: Eating disorders


Empathy is the ability to recognize and respond to the emotional states of other individuals. It is an important psychological process that facilitates navigating social interactions and maintaining relationships, which are important for well-being. Several psychological studies have identified difficulties in both self-report and performance-based measures of empathy in a range of psychiatric conditions. To date, no study has systematically investigated the genetic architecture of empathy using genome-wide association studies (GWAS). Here we report the results of the largest GWAS of empathy to date using a well-validated self-report measure of empathy, the Empathy Quotient (EQ), in 46,861 research participants from 23andMe, Inc. We identify 11 suggestive loci (P < 1 × 10-6), though none were significant at P < 2.5 × 10-8after correcting for multiple testing. The most significant SNP was identified in the non-stratified analysis (rs4882760; P = 4.29 × 10-8), and is an intronic SNP in TMEM132C. The EQ had a modest but significant narrow-sense heritability (0.11 ± 0.014; P = 1.7 × 10-14). As predicted, based on earlier work, we confirmed a significant female advantage on the EQ (P < 2 × 10-16, Cohen's d = 0.65). We identified similar SNP heritability and high genetic correlation between the sexes. Also, as predicted, we identified a significant negative genetic correlation between autism and the EQ (rg= -0.27 ± 0.07, P = 1.63 × 10-4). We also identified a significant positive genetic correlation between the EQ and risk for schizophrenia (rg= 0.19 ± 0.04; P = 1.36 × 10-5), risk for anorexia nervosa (rg= 0.32 ± 0.09; P = 6 × 10-4), and extraversion (rg= 0.45 ± 0.08; 5.7 × 10-8). This is the first GWAS of self-reported empathy. The results suggest that the genetic variations associated with empathy also play a role in psychiatric conditions and psychological traits.

Concepts: Psychology, Genetics, Greek loanwords, Anorexia nervosa, Eating disorders, Genome-wide association study, Correlation and dependence, Emotion


Social media use is ever increasing amongst young adults and has previously been shown to have negative effects on body image, depression, social comparison, and disordered eating. One eating disorder of interest in this context is orthorexia nervosa, an obsession with eating healthily. High orthorexia nervosa prevalence has been found in populations who take an active interest in their health and body and is frequently comorbid with anorexia nervosa. Here, we investigate links between social media use, in particularly Instagram and orthorexia nervosa symptoms.

Concepts: Nutrition, Symptoms, Anorexia nervosa, Eating disorders, Mental disorder, Body dysmorphic disorder, Culture-specific syndromes, Orthorexia nervosa


Orthorexia nervosa describes a pathological obsession with proper nutrition that is characterized by a restrictive diet, ritualized patterns of eating, and rigid avoidance of foods believed to be unhealthy or impure. Although prompted by a desire to achieve optimum health, orthorexia may lead to nutritional deficiencies, medical complications, and poor quality of life. Despite its being a distinct behavioral pattern that is frequently observed by clinicians, orthorexia has received very little empirical attention and is not yet formally recognized as a psychiatric disorder. In this review, we synthesize existing research to identify what is known about the symptoms, prevalence, neuropsychological profile, and treatment of orthorexia. An examination of diagnostic boundaries reveals important points of symptom overlap between orthorexia and anorexia nervosa, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD), somatic symptom disorder, illness anxiety disorder, and psychotic spectrum disorders. Neuropsychological data suggest that orthorexic symptoms are independently associated with key facets of executive dysfunction for which some of these conditions already overlap. Discussion of cognitive weaknesses in set-shifting, external attention, and working memory highlights the value of continued research to identify intermediate, transdiagnostic endophenotypes for insight into the neuropathogenesis of orthorexia. An evaluation of current orthorexia measures indicates a need for further psychometric development to ensure that subsequent research has access to reliable and valid assessment tools. Optimized assessment will not only permit a clearer understanding of prevalence rates, psychosocial risk factors, and comorbid psychopathology but will also be needed to index intervention effectiveness. Though the field lacks data on therapeutic outcomes, current best practices suggest that orthorexia can successfully be treated with a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychoeducation, and medication.

Concepts: Psychology, Anorexia nervosa, Eating disorders, Psychiatry, Body dysmorphic disorder, Obsessive–compulsive disorder, Obsessive–compulsive personality disorder, Orthorexia nervosa


The authors conducted a genome-wide association study of anorexia nervosa and calculated genetic correlations with a series of psychiatric, educational, and metabolic phenotypes.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Evolution, Anorexia nervosa, Eating disorders, Genome-wide association study, Anorexia, Showbread


Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, are common and severe mental illnesses of unknown etiology. Recently, we identified a rare missense mutation in the transcription factor estrogen-related receptor alpha (ESRRA) that is associated with the development of eating disorders. However, little is known about ESRRA function in the brain. Here, we report that Esrra is expressed in the mouse brain and demonstrate that Esrra levels are regulated by energy reserves. Esrra-null female mice display a reduced operant response to a high-fat diet, compulsivity/behavioral rigidity, and social deficits. Selective Esrra knockdown in the prefrontal and orbitofrontal cortices of adult female mice recapitulates reduced operant response and increased compulsivity, respectively. These results indicate that Esrra deficiency in the mouse brain impairs behavioral responses in multiple functional domains.

Concepts: Brain, Anorexia nervosa, Eating disorders, Nuclear receptor, Mouse, Body dysmorphic disorder, Bulimia nervosa, Maudsley Family Therapy


Eating disorders pose risks to health and wellbeing in young adolescents, but prospective studies of risk factors are scarce and this has impeded prevention efforts. This longitudinal study aimed to examine risk factors for eating disorder symptoms in a population-based birth cohort of young adolescents at 12 years. Participants from the Gateshead Millennium Study birth cohort (n = 516; 262 girls and 254 boys) completed self-report questionnaire measures of eating disorder symptoms and putative risk factors at age 7 years, 9 years and 12 years, including dietary restraint, depressive symptoms and body dissatisfaction. Body mass index (BMI) was also measured at each age. Within-time correlates of eating disorder symptoms at 12 years of age were greater body dissatisfaction for both sexes and, for girls only, higher depressive symptoms. For both sexes, higher eating disorder symptoms at 9 years old significantly predicted higher eating disorder symptoms at 12 years old. Dietary restraint at 7 years old predicted boys' eating disorder symptoms at age 12, but not girls'. Factors that did not predict eating disorder symptoms at 12 years of age were BMI (any age), girls' dietary restraint at 7 years and body dissatisfaction at 7 and 9 years of age for both sexes. In this population-based study, different patterns of predictors and correlates of eating disorder symptoms were found for girls and boys. Body dissatisfaction, a purported risk factor for eating disorder symptoms in young adolescents, developed concurrently with eating disorder symptoms rather than preceding them. However, restraint at age 7 and eating disorder symptoms at age 9 years did predict 12-year eating disorder symptoms. Overall, our findings suggest that efforts to prevent disordered eating might beneficially focus on preadolescent populations.

Concepts: Cohort study, Longitudinal study, Epidemiology, Nutrition, Risk, Prediction, Body mass index, Eating disorders


The number of girls participating in sports has increased significantly since the introduction of Title XI in 1972. As a result, more girls have been able to experience the social, educational, and health-related benefits of sports participation. However, there are risks associated with sports participation, including the female athlete triad. The triad was originally recognized as the interrelationship of amenorrhea, osteoporosis, and disordered eating, but our understanding has evolved to recognize that each of the components of the triad exists on a spectrum from optimal health to disease. The triad occurs when energy intake does not adequately compensate for exercise-related energy expenditure, leading to adverse effects on reproductive, bone, and cardiovascular health. Athletes can present with a single component or any combination of the components. The triad can have a more significant effect on the health of adolescent athletes than on adults because adolescence is a critical time for bone mass accumulation. This report outlines the current state of knowledge on the epidemiology, diagnosis, and treatment of the triad conditions.

Concepts: Osteoporosis, Epidemiology, Human, Female, Educational psychology, Eating disorders, Triad, Female athlete triad


Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a complex and heritable eating disorder characterized by dangerously low body weight. Neither candidate gene studies nor an initial genome-wide association study (GWAS) have yielded significant and replicated results. We performed a GWAS in 2907 cases with AN from 14 countries (15 sites) and 14 860 ancestrally matched controls as part of the Genetic Consortium for AN (GCAN) and the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium 3 (WTCCC3). Individual association analyses were conducted in each stratum and meta-analyzed across all 15 discovery data sets. Seventy-six (72 independent) single nucleotide polymorphisms were taken forward for in silico (two data sets) or de novo (13 data sets) replication genotyping in 2677 independent AN cases and 8629 European ancestry controls along with 458 AN cases and 421 controls from Japan. The final global meta-analysis across discovery and replication data sets comprised 5551 AN cases and 21 080 controls. AN subtype analyses (1606 AN restricting; 1445 AN binge-purge) were performed. No findings reached genome-wide significance. Two intronic variants were suggestively associated: rs9839776 (P=3.01 × 10(-7)) in SOX2OT and rs17030795 (P=5.84 × 10(-6)) in PPP3CA. Two additional signals were specific to Europeans: rs1523921 (P=5.76 × 10(-)(6)) between CUL3 and FAM124B and rs1886797 (P=8.05 × 10(-)(6)) near SPATA13. Comparing discovery with replication results, 76% of the effects were in the same direction, an observation highly unlikely to be due to chance (P=4 × 10(-6)), strongly suggesting that true findings exist but our sample, the largest yet reported, was underpowered for their detection. The accrual of large genotyped AN case-control samples should be an immediate priority for the field.

Concepts: DNA, Genetics, Single-nucleotide polymorphism, Anorexia nervosa, Eating disorders, Genome-wide association study, Genotyping, Body weight


Some investigators have suggested subtyping bulimia nervosa (BN) by anorexia nervosa (AN) history. We examined trait-level and momentary eating-related and psychosocial factors in BN with and without an AN history.

Concepts: Anorexia nervosa, Eating disorders, Bulimia nervosa, Maudsley Family Therapy, Anorexia, Culture-specific syndromes


Previous research in eating disorders suggests that treatment satisfaction is closely related to the manner in which care is delivered. The present research is a systematic in depth study of health professional characteristics preferred by AN-patients.

Concepts: Health care, Health care provider, Nutrition, Patient, Anorexia nervosa, Eating disorders, Body dysmorphic disorder, Bulimia nervosa