Gene Variation and Anorexia Risk

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
May/June 2001 Volume 12, Number 3
©2001 Gürze Books

Studies of families and twins have shown that one form of a gene active in appetite stimulation may make some individuals more susceptible to developing anorexia nervosa, but thus far identifying the specific genes involved has been elusive.

Now researchers in the Netherlands and Germany report they have linked a particular form of a gene, agouti-related protein (AGRP), to susceptibility to anorexia nervosa. According to Dr. T. Vink, of University Medical Center, Utrecht, the Netherlands, this gene may more than double a person’s risk of developing the eating disorder (Molecular Psychiatry 2001;6:325).

AGRP signals the brain that the body needs food. However, the gene variant may be less effective in signaling the brain during times of hunger. AGRP is only a single component and the scientists believe that a number of genes work with environmental influences to trigger anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders. One potentially helpful sidelight is that drugs that mimic AGRP activity may help stimulate normal appetite in some anorexia nervosa patients.

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