Background: Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) is a novel treatment option for people with severe enduring anorexia nervosa (SE-AN), but associated neurobiological changes are poorly understood. This study investigated the effect of rTMS treatment on regional cerebral blood flow (CBF) and whether any observed changes in CBF are associated with changes in clinical outcomes in people with SE-AN. Methods: As part of a randomised sham-controlled feasibility trial of 20 sessions of high-frequency rTMS to the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, 26 of 34 trial participants completed arterial spin labelling (ASL) functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to quantify regional and global resting state CBF before (pre-randomisation baseline) and after real or sham treatment (1-month post-randomisation). A group of healthy females (n = 30) were recruited for baseline comparison. Clinical outcomes, including BMI, and depression and anxiety symptoms, were assessed at baseline, 1-, 4-, and 18-months post-randomisation. Results: No group differences in regional CBF were identified between the SE-AN and healthy comparison participants. A significant treatment-by-time interaction in a medial temporal lobe cluster with the maximal peak in the right amygdala was identified, reflecting a greater reduction in amygdala CBF following real rTMS compared to sham. Participants with the greatest rTMS-related reduction in amygdala CBF (i.e., between baseline and 1-month post-randomisation) showed the greatest sustained weight gain at 18-months post-randomisation. Higher baseline CBF in the insula predicted greater weight gain between baseline and 1-month post-randomisation and between baseline and 4-months post-randomisation. Conclusions: This exploratory pilot study identified rTMS treatment related changes in CBF in adults with SE-AN and these were associated with changes in weight. Our preliminary findings also suggest that CBF (as measured by ASL fMRI) may be a marker of rTMS treatment response in this patient group. Future rTMS studies in AN should employ longitudinal neuroimaging to further explore the neurobiological changes related to rTMS treatment. Trial registration: ISRCTN14329415, registered 23rd July 2015.
- Anorexia nervosa
- Arterial spin labelling
- Cerebral blood flow
- Eating disorders
- Functional magnetic resonance imaging
- Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation