Mesolimbic Neurobehavioral Mechanisms of Reward Motivation in Anorexia Nervosa: A Multimodal Imaging Study

Reza Tadayonnejad, Ds Adnan Majid, Evangelia Tsolaki, Riddhi Rane, Huan Wang, Teena D. Moody, Wolfgang M. Pauli, Nader Pouratian, Ausaf A. Bari, Stuart B. Murray, John P. O'Doherty, Jamie D. Feusner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Diminished motivation to pursue and obtain primary and secondary rewards has been demonstrated in anorexia nervosa (AN). However, the neurobehavioral mechanisms underlying the behavioral activation component of aberrant reward motivation remains incompletely understood. This work aims to explore this underexplored facet of reward motivation in AN. We recruited female adolescents with AN, restricting type (n = 32) and a healthy control group (n = 28). All participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while performing a monetary reward task. Diffusion MRI data was also collected to examine the reward motivation circuit's structural connectivity. Behavioral results demonstrated slower speed of reward-seeking behavior in those with AN compared with controls. Accompanying this was lower functional connectivity and reduced white matter structural integrity of the connection between the ventral tegmental area/substantia nigra pars compacta and the nucleus accumbens within the mesolimbic circuit. Further, there was evidence of neurobehavioral decoupling in AN between reward-seeking behavior and mesolimbic regional activation and functional connectivity. Aberrant activity of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) and its connectivity with the mesolimbic system was also evident in AN during the reward motivation period. Our findings suggest functional and structural dysconnectivity within a mesolimbic reward circuit, neurofunctional decoupling from reward-seeking behavior, and abnormal BNST function and circuit interaction with the mesolimbic system. These results show behavioral indicators of aberrant reward motivation in AN, particularly in its activational component. This is mediated neuronally by mesolimbic reward circuit functional and structural dysconnectivity as well as neurobehavioral decoupling. Based on these findings, we suggest a novel circuit-based mechanism of impaired reward processing in AN, with the potential for translation to developing more targeted and effective treatments in this difficult-to-treat psychiatric condition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number806327
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
StatePublished - Mar 7 2022


  • anorexia nervosa
  • bed nucleus of the stria terminalis
  • DTI
  • fMRI
  • mesolimbic circuit
  • nucleus accumbens
  • reward motivation
  • ventral tegmental area

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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