Neurobiological and psychopharmacological basis in the therapy of bulimia and anorexia

Massimo C. Mauri, Renata Rudelli, Elena Somaschini, Lucia Roncoroni, Raffaele Papa, Mario Mantero, Matteo Longhini, Gaetano Penati

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Eating disorders can be found in several psychiatric pathologies: schizophrenia, delusional disorder (somatic type), bipolar disorders, major depressive disorder, borderline personality disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, body dysmorphic disorder, somatization disorder and conversion disorder. Although their clinical features have been defined, relatively little is known about the role of neurobiological patterns in the pathogenesis of these disorders. Several CNS neurotransmitters and neuromodulators are involved in the regulation of eating behavior in animals and have been implicated in symptoms such as depression and anxiety often observed in patients with eating disorders. The authors will review some studies on NA, DA, 5-HT, beta-endorphines, CRH, VP, OT, CCK, NPY and PYY envolved in eating disorders. Furthermore, we will highlight some of the studies on drug therapy of eating disorders taking into account the effects of these agents on neurotransmitters and neuromodulators. Antidepressant drugs have long been used for anorexia nervosa and bulimia, these disorders been claimed to be affective equivalent. Antidepressant agents seem to be effective in reducing the frequency of binge-eating episodes, purging behavior and depressive symptomatology. It is notable that antidepressant agents have been proved to be effective in patients with chronic bulimic symptoms, even in cases persisting for many years and in patients who had repeatedly failed courses of alternative therapeutic approaches. In all of the positive studies, antidepressant agents appeared effective even in bulimic subjects who did not display concomitant depression. Few controlled studies on use of medications for anorexia nervosa have been published. Central serotonergic receptor-blocking compounds such as cyproheptadine cause marked increase in appetite and body weight. Zinc supplementation or cisapride could be a therapeutic option in addition to psychological and other approaches in anorexia nervosa. There is no therapy as yet which is fully effective in alimentary disorders. Psychotropic drugs give some relief from symptoms, but they cannot cure the disorders. An integrated approach, either pharmacological or psychological, is still recommendable.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)207-240
Number of pages34
JournalProgress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1996


  • anorexia
  • bulimia
  • psychopharmacological basis and therapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Pharmacology


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