Brain correlates of alexithymia in eating disorders: A voxel-based morphometry study

Federico D'Agata, Paola Caroppo, Federico Amianto, Angela Spalatro, Marcella M. Caglio, Mauro Bergui, Luca Lavagnino, Dorico Righi, Giovanni Abbate-Daga, Lorenzo Pinessi, Paolo Mortara, Secondo Fassino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aims Alexithymia is a personality trait that consists of difficulty in identifying and acknowledging one's own and others' feelings. Recent studies reported that alexithymia is present in both anorexia (AN) and bulimia nervosa (BN). Brain morphological studies on healthy subjects showed that alexithymia correlates with several brain regions involved in emotions processing. The aim of this study was to investigate the anatomical correlates of alexithymia in AN and BN. Methods We performed a voxel-based morphometry study on 21 patients with AN and 18 with BN. Seventeen healthy subjects were used as a control group. Alexithymia, depression and anxiety were assessed with self-administered questionnaires and correlated to gray matter (GM) density in each group. Results In BN, alexithymia was correlated with the GM of the parietal lobe, in particular of the right angular gyrus. The correlation was predominantly linked with Difficulty Describing Feelings. In AN, we did not find correlations between GM and alexithymia. Conclusions In BN, our results support the hypothesis that this trait may represent a relevant pathogenic or maintenance factor that contributes to relational difficulties, present in this pathology. In AN, the lack of correlation between GM volume and alexithymia may be influenced by atrophy in several brain regions that in turn can be, as previously reported, a consequence of caloric restriction. Also, the nature of alexithymia may be different from that of BN and controls and this trait could be secondary to a psychopathologic process specific to AN.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)708-716
Number of pages9
JournalPsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1 2015


  • alexithymia
  • anorexia nervosa
  • bulimia nervosa
  • eating disorders
  • voxel-based morphometry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Neuroscience(all)


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