The role of BDNF, leptin, and catecholamines in reward learning in bulimia nervosa.Int J Neuropsychopharmacol 2014; 18(5)IJ
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.