Skinny Genes

Researchers at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia find gene-link to anorexia

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

Both common and rare gene variants associated with anorexia nervosa (AN) have been identified in the largest-ever genetic study of the eating disorder.

Researchers at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia pinpointed genes active in neuronal signaling and in shaping interconnections among brain cells, which they are subjecting to further study.

Anorexia nervosa usually begins in adolescence and affects women about 10 times more than men. An estimated 9 in 1,000 women are affected by the debilitating disorder, which claims the highest mortality rate among all psychiatric disorders.

Recent research indicates anorexia nervosa is strongly inheritable, though lead author of this study, Hakon Hakonarson, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for Applied Genomics at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said, “despite various genetic studies that identified a handful of candidate genes associated with anorexia nervosa, the genetic architecture underlying susceptibility to anorexia nervosa has been largely unknown.”

Researchers looked at DNA from 1,003 anorexia nervosa patients, all but 24 of them female with an average age of 27 years. A control group of 3,733 pediatric subjects (average age: 13) drawn from the Children's Hospital pediatric network served as a comparison.

“We confirmed results of previous studies of anorexia nervosa,” said Hakonarson. “We did not detect other obvious candidate genes, but we did generate a list of other genes that we are analyzing in follow-up studies.”

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Review Date: 
November 22, 2010