In it, they identified the first chromosome location, or locus, to be correlated with the disorder, hinting at a possible metabolic link.
Their new study analyzed dozens of data sets containing a total of nearly 17,000 people with anorexia and more than 55,000 healthy controls.
“There’s no question that this is an extremely important study and is aiming to take state-of-the-art methods and use them to examine the genetic risk factors that may be at the base of the challenging disorder of anorexia nervosa,” says Evelyn Attia, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, who was not involved in the work.
The findings are correlational, however, and do not conclusively prove that metabolic factors are among the causes of the disorder, Attia notes.
"Consequently, many patients with the disorder remain ill for years or eventually die from the disease, which has the highest death rate of any psychiatric disorder." A better understanding of the underlying neurobiology – how behavior is coded in the brain and contributes to anorexia —is likely to result in more effective treatments, according to the researchers.
Childhood personality and temperament may increase an individual's vulnerability to developing anorexia.“We don't know what the mechanism is here yet,” she says.“It’s just something that we've seen clinically for years but haven’t thought about as potentially [involving] opposite ends of the same underlying process.” Bulik and her colleagues published a study in 2017 that analyzed the genomes of about 3,500 people with anorexia.“Right now, we have no medications effective in treatment of this illness,” she says.“We’re starting at zero.” Attia agrees that learning more about the genetics involved is a helpful first step toward therapies.In a review paper published online in , Walter Kaye, MD, professor of psychiatry and director of the Eating Disorders Program at the University of California, San Diego, and colleagues describe dysfunction in certain neural circuits of the brain which may help explain why people develop anorexia in the first place, and behaviors such as the relentless pursuit of dieting and weight loss."Currently, we don't have very effective means of treating people with anorexia," said Kaye.The subjects were from 17 countries, and all of them had European ancestry.This time, the researchers identified eight genetic loci linked to the disorder, although Bulik says there are likely hundreds.“We’re in the early phase of using these genetic results to directly inform new treatments,” she says.But she adds that understanding more about what contributes to the development of this complex illness—notoriously hard to treat despite being known for centuries—is “tremendously exciting.” Environmental influences are also thought to play a role in anorexia’s development, but they are difficult to measure.