Metabolic state and value-based decision-making in acute and recovered female patients with anorexia nervosa

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review


Background: Patients with anorexia nervosa forgo eating despite emaciation and severe health consequences. Such dysfunctional decision-making might be explained by an excessive level of self-control, alterations in homeostatic and hedonic regulation, or an interplay between these processes. We aimed to understand value-based decision-making in anorexia nervosa and its association with the gut hormone ghrelin. Besides its homeostatic function, ghrelin has been implicated in the hedonic regulation of appetite and reward via the modulation of phasic dopamine signalling.

Methods: In a cross-sectional design, we studied acutely underweight (n = 94) and recovered (n = 37) patients with anorexia nervosa of the restrictive subtype, as well as healthy control participants (n = 119). We assessed plasma concentrations of desacyl ghrelin and parameters of delay discounting, probability discounting for gains and losses, and loss aversion.

Results: Recovered patients displayed higher risk aversion for gains, but we observed no group differences for the remaining decision-making parameters. Desacyl ghrelin was higher in acutely underweight and recovered participants with anorexia nervosa relative to healthy controls. Moreover, we found a significant group × desacyl ghrelin interaction in delay discounting, indicating that in contrast to healthy controls, acutely underweight patients with anorexia nervosa who had high desacyl ghrelin concentrations preferably chose the delayed reward option.

Limitations: We probed decision-making using monetary rewards, but patients with anorexia nervosa may react differently to disorder-relevant stimuli. Furthermore, in contrast to acyl ghrelin, the functions of desacyl ghrelin are unclear. Therefore, the interpretation of the results is preliminary.

Conclusion: The propensity for risk aversion as found in recovered patients with anorexia nervosa could help them successfully complete therapy, or it could reflect sequelae of the disorder. Conversely, ghrelin findings might be related to a mechanism contributing to disease maintenance; that is, in acutely underweight anorexia nervosa, a hungry state may facilitate the ability to forgo an immediate reward to achieve a (dysfunctional) long-term goal.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)253-261
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of psychiatry & neuroscience: JPN
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2020

External IDs

PubMedCentral PMC7828930
Scopus 85087111012
ORCID /0000-0002-3188-8431/work/107959717
crossref 10.1503/jpn.190031
ORCID /0000-0002-2864-5578/work/142233458
ORCID /0000-0003-2132-4445/work/142236326
ORCID /0000-0002-5112-405X/work/142242677
ORCID /0000-0001-5398-5569/work/150329444


Sustainable Development Goals


  • Acute Disease, Adolescent, Adult, Anorexia Nervosa/metabolism, Case-Control Studies, Child, Cross-Sectional Studies, Decision Making, Delay Discounting, Female, Ghrelin/metabolism, Humans, Mental Health Recovery, Young Adult