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Elevated Proinflammatory Cytokines Seen in Anorexia Nervosa

June 19, 2018

A meta-analysis of 25 studies examining cytokines and eating disorders found elevated levels of tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α and interleukin 6 (IL-6) in people with anorexia nervosa (AN), compared with healthy controls.

Researchers did not find the same correlation in people with bulimia nervosa (BN).

The systematic review looked at cross-sectional and longitudinal studies and conducted random-effects meta-analyses for IL-6, TNF-α, interleukin 1β (IL-1β), transforming growth factor (TGF)-β, independently, with all eating disorders combined and by specific disorder.

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People with AN participated in 23 of the studies and 4 studies included people with BN.

Among all participants with eating disorders, TNF-α and IL-6 were elevated, compared with the healthy controls. Levels of IL-1β and TGF-β did not differ between the groups.

“Considering the role of cytokines in appetite, mood regulation, and anxiety, these pro-inflammatory cytokines could be a potential future drug target to help people with AN, not only with weight gain, but also with various coexisting psychological problems,” the research team wrote.

“Future studies should consider confounding factors that affect cytokine concentrations and report [eating disorder]-relevant clinical characteristics.”

—Terri Airov


Dalton B, Bartholdy S, Robinson L, et al. A meta-analysis of cytokine concentrations in eating disorders. Journal of Psychiatric Research. 2018;103:252-264.

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