Genetic Links Indicate Anorexia Has Both Psychiatric and Metabolic Roots Interview with:

Cynthia Bulik, PhD

Cynthia Bulik, PhD

Cynthia Bulik, PhD, FAED
Founding director of the UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders and
Professor at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden. What is the background for this study?

Response: Researchers and clinicians from around the world came together to create the most powerful genome-wide association study of anorexia nervosa to date. Via this global collaboration, we were able to identify the first significant locus that influences risk for anorexia nervosa. We have known that anorexia is heritable for over a decade, but now we are actually identifying which genes are implicated. This is the first one identified! What are the main findings?

1) The first gene is an an area that has been previously implicated in Type 1 diabetes and autoimmune syndromes
2) The pattern of genetic correlations suggests that the etiology of anorexia nervosa is BOTH psychiatric and metabolic. This forces us to look at the illness through a new lens and dig deeper to understand how metabolic factors influence this pernicious illness What should readers take away from your report?

Response: That anorexia nervosa has both psychiatric and metabolic roots and both need to be considered in understanding and treating the illness. This may help explain why it is so difficult for individuals with anorexia nervosa to be renourished and maintain a healthy weight. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: We absolutely need to increase sample size. We have seeing other disorders that once you identify the first gene, you are on a rapid trajectory of discovery. We have >13,000 samples queued to be genotyped so we hope to have a much larger sample in the next year. AND we need to dig deeper to understand HWO metabolism is involved in risk for, maintenance of and ultimately treatment of anorexia nervosa. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness. Ultimately we hope that our work will eliminate deaths from this disorder.

Dr. Bulik is a grant recipient from Shire and receives royalties from Pearson and Walker. All disclosure unrelated to the content of this study. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Cynthia M. Bulik et al. Significant Locus and Metabolic Genetic Correlations Revealed in Genome-Wide Association Study of Anorexia Nervosa. American Journal of Psychiatry, 2017; appi.ajp.2017.1 DOI: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2017.16121402

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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Last Updated on May 13, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD