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Eating disorder: predisposition to anorexia nervosa already predetermined in the womb?


Certain molecule makes you susceptible to anorexia

There has been a sharp increase in eating disorders in Germany in recent years. According to health experts, anorexia in particular is a very serious problem, especially for women. Researchers have now found that the susceptibility to this eating disorder may have been created during pregnancy.

More and more people with eating disorders

Health experts have seen a dramatic increase in eating disorders in recent years. More and more girls are particularly affected. Anorexia (anorexia or anorexia nervosa) is the most widespread eating disorder in Germany. Last year a research group reported that it can also be congenital. Scientists have now identified a molecule that could be responsible for the descent of offspring whose mothers were stressed during pregnancy.

Stress alone does not lead to an eating disorder

Susceptibility to eating disorders has often been linked to early childhood stress.

However, stress alone does not necessarily lead to an eating disorder; rather, it is a combination of predisposition and a multitude of factors from early life that lead to the disease, reports the Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry (MPI) in a statement.

In a study recently published in the journal "Nature Communications", MPI researchers provide crucial biological insights into this disease.

Women affected significantly more often than men

Anorexia is characterized by self-imposed hunger. The eating disorder often occurs in teenagers or young adults for the first time, about ten times as often in women as in men.

According to the experts, it shows the highest mortality rate among all mental illnesses. Still, little is known about it.

Your treatment therefore rarely leads to full recovery.

Choice between exercise and eating

Mariana Schroeder, author of the study and project group leader in the team of Alon Chen, the managing director of the MPI, assumed that the susceptibility to anorexia arises in the womb.

The scientist tested adolescent mice with a model that mimicked activity-based anorexia by allowing animals to choose between exercise and eating.

As a result, females were highly susceptible to activity-based anorexia, preferring exercise to eating.

“Interestingly, the female mice split into two groups when exposed to the activity model. About 40 percent became anorexic, the other 60 percent did not. The males were largely resistant, ”adds Schroeder.

And: "Amazingly, prenatal stress prevented this vulnerability."

Molecular mechanism identified

In the next step, the researchers wanted to identify the molecular mechanism that underlies this programming in pregnancy.

To do this, they examined the microRNA levels in the placenta. - Micro-RNAs are molecules that are important for gene regulation. - A micro-RNA stood out, the so-called miR-340.

This was highly variable in females, while it was hardly detectable in the placenta of male offspring.

The scientists artificially manipulated the expression of this micro-RNA in order to increase its share in the placenta.

As a result, susceptibility to anorexia increased in both male and female mice. MiR-340 indirectly affected nutrient transfer from the mother to the fetus, changing the brain of the fetus.

"This study provides significant insight into the early onset of this poorly understood eating disorder," said Chen. (ad)

Author and source information

Video: Anorexia nervosa - causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment u0026 pathology (August 2020).