SAN DIEGO (CNS) - An international research team led by scientists at the UC San Diego School of Medicine have linked the eating disorder anorexia nervosa to a specific gene, according to a published report Tuesday.
The researchers made the discovery by using stem cells from adolescent girls with the eating disorder to create the first cellular model of anorexia nervosa. The findings are reported in Tuesday's issue of "Translational Psychiatry."
The proof-of-concept approach, they said, provides a new tool to investigate the elusive and largely unknown molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying the disease.
"Though often viewed as a non-biological disorder, new research suggests 50 to 75 percent of risk for AN may be heritable, with predisposition driven primarily by genetics and not, as sometimes presumed, by vanity, poor parenting or factors related to specific groups of individuals, according to a statement from the the UC San Diego School of Medicine
Anorexia is a very complicated, multifactorial neurodevelopmental disorder," Alysson Muotri, professor in the UC San Diego School of Medicine departments of Pediatrics and Cellular and Molecular Medicine said. "It has proved to be a very difficult disease to study, let alone treat.
Muotri is the director of UC San Diego's Stem Cell Program and a member of the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine.
We don't actually have good experimental models for eating disorders," she said. "In fact, there are no treatments to reverse anorexia nervosa symptoms."
The eating disorder is primarily affecting young female adolescents between ages 15 and 19 and is characterized by distorted body image and self- imposed food restriction to the point of emaciation or death. It has the highest mortality rate among psychiatric conditions.
For females between 15 and 24 years old who suffer from anorexia, the mortality rate associated with the illness is 12 times higher than the death rate of all other causes of death.
Funding for the research came, in part, from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the National Institutes of Health and the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation.