Behavioral responses to catecholamine depletion in unmedicated, remitted subjects with bulimia nervosa and healthy subjects

Grob, Simona; Stern, Jair; Gamper, Lara; Moergeli, Hanspeter; Milos, Gabriella; Schnyder, Ulrich; Hasler, Gregor (2015). Behavioral responses to catecholamine depletion in unmedicated, remitted subjects with bulimia nervosa and healthy subjects. Biological psychiatry, 77(7), pp. 661-667. Elsevier 10.1016/j.biopsych.2013.09.013

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Bulimia nervosa (BN) has been associated with dysregulation of the central catecholaminergic system. An instructive way to investigate the relationship between catecholaminergic function and psychiatric disorder has involved behavioral responses to experimental catecholamine depletion (CD). The purpose of this study was to examine a possible catecholaminergic dysfunction in the pathogenesis of bulimia nervosa.


CD was achieved by oral administration of alpha-methyl-para-tyrosine (AMPT) in 18 remitted female subjects with BN (rBN) and 31 healthy female control subjects. The study design consisted of a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled crossover, single-site experimental trial. The main outcome measures were bulimic symptoms assessed by the Eating Disorder Examination-Questionnaire. Measures were assessed before and 26, 30, 54, 78, 102 hours after the first AMPT or placebo administration.


In the experimental environment (controlled environment with a low level of food cues) rBN subjects had a greater increase in eating disorder symptoms during CD compared with healthy control subjects (condition × diagnosis interaction, p < .05). In the experimental environment, rBN subjects experienced fewer bulimic symptoms than in the natural environment (uncontrolled environment concerning food cues) 36 hours after the first AMPT intake (environment × diagnosis interaction, p < .05). Serum prolactin levels increased significantly, and to a comparable degree across groups, after AMPT administration.


This study suggests that rBN is associated with vulnerability for developing eating disorder symptoms in response to reduced catecholamine neurotransmission after CD. The findings support the notion of catecholaminergic dysfunction as a possible trait abnormality in BN.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


04 Faculty of Medicine > University Psychiatric Services > University Hospital of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy > Healthcare Research

UniBE Contributor:

Hasler, Gregor


600 Technology > 610 Medicine & health








Daniela Zurkinden

Date Deposited:

10 Apr 2014 10:34

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:32

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Behavioral effects, bulimia nervosa, catecholamine depletion, dopamine, norepinephrine, pathophysiology


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