Advances in the treatment of bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder (BN/BED) have been marred by our limited understanding of the underpinning neurobiology. Here we measured regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) to map resting perfusion abnormalities in women with BN/BED compared with healthy controls and investigate whether intranasal oxytocin (OT), proposed as a potential treatment, can restore perfusion in disorder-related brain circuits. Twenty-four women with BN/BED and 23 healthy women participated in a randomized, double-blind, crossover, placebo-controlled study. We used arterial spin labelling MRI to measure rCBF and the effects of an acute dose of intranasal OT (40 IU) or placebo over 18–26 min post dosing, as we have previously shown robust OT-induced changes in resting rCBF in men in a similar time-window (15–36 min post dosing). We tested for effects of treatment, diagnosis and their interaction on extracted rCBF values in anatomical regions-of-interest previously implicated in BN/BED by other neuroimaging modalities, and conducted exploratory whole-brain analyses to investigate previously unidentified brain regions. We demonstrated that women with BN/BED presented increased resting rCBF in the medial prefrontal and orbitofrontal cortices, anterior cingulate gyrus, posterior insula and middle/inferior temporal gyri bilaterally. Hyperperfusion in these areas specifically correlated with eating symptoms severity in patients. Our data did not support a normalizing effect of intranasal OT on perfusion abnormalities in these patients, at least for the specific dose (40 IU) and post-dosing interval (18–26 min) examined. Our findings enhance our understanding of resting brain abnormalities in BN/BED and identify resting rCBF as a non-invasive potential biomarker for disease-related changes and treatment monitoring. They also highlight the need for a comprehensive investigation of intranasal OT pharmacodynamics in women before we can fully ascertain its therapeutic value in disorders affecting predominantly this gender, such as BN/BED.
- oxytocin, intranasal, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, arterial spin labelling