The role of BDNF, leptin, and catecholamines in reward learning in bulimia nervosa

Philipp Homan, Simona Grob, Gabriella Milos, Ulrich Schnyder, Anne Eckert, Undine Lang, Gregor Hasler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Background: A relationship between bulimia nervosa and reward-related behavior is supported by several lines of evidence. The dopaminergic dysfunctions in the processing of reward-related stimuli have been shown to be modulated by the neurotrophin brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and the hormone leptin. Methods: Using a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover design, a reward learning task was applied to study the behavior of 20 female subjects with remitted bulimia nervosa and 27 female healthy controls under placebo and catecholamine depletion with alpha-methyl-para-tyrosine (AMPT). The plasma levels of BDNF and leptin were measured twice during the placebo and the AMPT condition, immediately before and 1 hour after a standardized breakfast. Results: AMPT-induced differences in plasma BDNF levels were positively correlated with the AMPT-induced differences in reward learning in the whole sample (P = .05). Across conditions, plasma brain derived neurotrophic factor levels were higher in remitted bulimia nervosa subjects compared with controls (diagnosis effect; P = .001). Plasma BDNF and leptin levels were higher in the morning before compared with after a standardized breakfast across groups and conditions (time effect; P .0001). The plasma leptin levels were higher under catecholamine depletion compared with placebo in the whole sample (treatment effect; P = .0004). Conclusions: This study reports on preliminary findings that suggest a catecholamine-dependent association of plasma BDNF and reward learning in subjects with remitted bulimia nervosa and controls. A role of leptin in reward learning is not supported by this study. However, leptin levels were sensitive to a depletion of catecholamine stores in both remitted bulimia nervosa and controls..

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Alpha-Methyl-Para-tyrosine
  • BDNF
  • Bulimia Nervosa
  • Catecholamines
  • Leptin
  • Reward


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