Diminished prefrontal cortex activation in patients with binge eating disorder associates with trait impulsivity and improves after impulsivity-focused treatment based on a randomized controlled IMPULS trial


Background Behavioral and cognitive control are vital for healthy eating behavior. Patients with binge eating disorder (BED) suffer under recurrent binge eating episodes accompanied by subjective loss of control that results, among other factors, from increased impulsivity. Methods In the current study, we investigated the frontal network using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) during a food specific go/nogo task to assess response inhibition in 24 patients with BED (BMI range 22.6-59.7 kg/m2) compared to 12 healthy controls (HC) (BMI range 20.9-27 kg/m2). Patients with BED were invited to undergo fNIRS measurements before an impulsivity-focused cognitive behavioral group treatment, directly after this treatment and 3 months afterwards. As this was a planned subgroup analysis of the randomized controlled IMPULS trial, patients with BED were randomized either to the treatment group (n=14) or to a control group (n=10). The treatment group received 8 weekly sessions of the IMPULS treatment. Results We found a significant response inhibition effect (nogo minus go), in terms of an increased oxygenated hemoglobin response in the bilateral prefrontal cortex in both groups. The greatest response was observed when participants were instructed to go for healthy and withhold their response to unhealthy high caloric food cues. The healthy nogo condition failed to show a significant prefrontal inhibitory response, which was probably related to the task design, as the condition was considered more demanding. BED patients, especially those with higher trait impulsivity, showed a weaker activation of the prefrontal cortex during response inhibition, predominantly in the right hemisphere. Interestingly, three months after the treatment, patients of the treatment group increased their right prefrontal cortex activity during response inhibition. Likewise, increased prefrontal cortex activation correlated with decreased trait impulsivity after treatment. Conclusions Our results suggest that patients with BED have limited resources to activate the prefrontal cortex when asked to inhibit a reaction onto food-specific stimuli. However, this effect could be partly driven by differences in BMI between the HC and BED group. Cognitive-behavioral therapy targeting impulsive eating behavior may improve prefrontal cortex recruitment during response inhibition.

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