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Abnormal brain processing of gentle touch in anorexia nervosa

Journal article
Authors Monika Davidovic
Louise Karjalainen
Göran Starck
Elisabet Wentz
Malin Björnsdotter Åberg
Håkan Olausson
Published in Psychiatry Research : Neuroimaging
Volume 281
Pages 53-60
ISSN 0925-4927
Publication year 2018
Published at Institute of Clinical Sciences, Department of Radiation Physics
Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology
Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Department of Psychiatry and Neurochemistry
Gillberg Neuropsychiatry Centre
Centre for Ethics, Law, and Mental Health
Pages 53-60
Language en
Keywords Anorexia nervosa; Touch; fMRI; Dorsal striatum; Lateral occipital cortex
Subject categories Neuroscience, Psychiatry


Body image disturbance is a core symptom in anorexia nervosa (AN). Recent research suggests that abnormalities in touch perception may contribute to the disease mechanisms in AN. Here, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study possible abnormalities in cortical processing of affective touch in AN. Gentle skin strokes were applied to the right forearm during fMRI scanning in women diagnosed with AN (n = 25) and in matched healthy controls (HC; n = 25). Blocks of skin stroking were alternated with blocks of static skin indentation. Participants provided ratings of the pleasantness of skin stroking stimulation. AN participants perceived skin stroking as significantly less pleasant than HC. We observed no group differences for the contrast between skin stroking and skin indentation in primary tactile regions. We did find, however, significantly less activity in the AN group in areas including left caudate nucleus. Also, we found less activity in the AN group in bilateral lateral occipital cortex for the main effect of skin stroking. Our results suggest that abnormal functioning of the dorsal striatum could affect evaluation of pleasant tactile stimuli, and that abnormal functioning of the lateral occipital cortex might be related to disturbed body image perception.

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