Journal article

The Role of BDNF, Leptin, and Catecholamines in Reward Learning in Bulimia Nervosa


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  • 2015
Published in:
  • International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology. - Oxford University Press. - 2015, vol. 18, no. 5, p. 1-8
English Background:
A relationship between bulimia nervosa and reward-related behavior is supported by several lines of evidence. The dopaminergic dysfunctions in the processing of reward-related stimuli have been shown to be modulated by the neurotrophin brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and the hormone leptin.

Using a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover design, a reward learning task was applied to study the behavior of 20 female subjects with remitted bulimia nervosa and 27 female healthy controls under placebo and catecholamine depletion with alpha-methyl-para-tyrosine (AMPT). The plasma levels of BDNF and leptin were measured twice during the placebo and the AMPT condition, immediately before and 1 hour after a standardized breakfast.

AMPT–induced differences in plasma BDNF levels were positively correlated with the AMPT–induced differences in reward learning in the whole sample (P=.05). Across conditions, plasma brain derived neurotrophic factor levels were higher in remitted bulimia nervosa subjects compared with controls (diagnosis effect; P=.001). Plasma BDNF and leptin levels were higher in the morning before compared with after a standardized breakfast across groups and conditions (time effect; P<.0001). The plasma leptin levels were higher under catecholamine depletion compared with placebo in the whole sample (treatment effect; P=.0004).

This study reports on preliminary findings that suggest a catecholamine-dependent association of plasma BDNF and reward learning in subjects with remitted bulimia nervosa and controls. A role of leptin in reward learning is not supported by this study. However, leptin levels were sensitive to a depletion of catecholamine stores in both remitted bulimia nervosa and controls.
Faculté des sciences et de médecine
Master en médecine
  • English
Pathology, clinical medicine
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Open access status
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