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Approved Research

The Neural Correlates of Low Bodyweight States: a Structural Neuroimaging Study

Principal Investigator: Miss Michelle Sader
Approved Research ID: 68767
Approval date: May 28th 2021

Lay summary

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is an important cause of mental ill-health and recent research shows that both genetics and brain biology play an important role in its development. Our previous research has reviewed how areas of the brain have different volumes in both obesity and anorexia compared to people with normal weight. It showed different volumes in regions of the brain responsible for regulation and decision-making in relation to emotion and reward. Our research also shows associations between brain volume and the normal variation of bodyweight relative to height (Body Mass Index - BMI).

Whilst much research has focussed on associations between brain function and being overweight, relationships with low bodyweight have been explored much less. We will investigate differences in brain volume and shape between people with low and those with normal BMI. Previous studies suggest that we will see increased volume in brain regions important for controlling emotions and for making decisions in low-weight participants, such as the anterior cingulate and medial frontal cortex, regions located deep in the midline area in the front of the brain. We also anticipate finding altered volume in the cerebellum. This area is most well-known for its role in coordination, but now we also know that it plays important roles in appetite and emotion control.

There may be many reasons why people have low bodyweight, and we are particularly interested to identify those individuals who intentionally maintain a low bodyweight through vigorous exercise or dietary self-control.

The UKBioBank cohort will allow us to identify which parts of the brain are linked to both exercise and/or dietary restriction and being underweight. This research will tell us more about the brain mechanisms that are helpful to lose weight effectively. This will be useful for informing programmes where weight loss is desirable, as well as those where weight gain is the aim.