Last updated on February 2018

Augmented Interoceptive Exposure Training in Anorexia Nervosa


Brief description of study

The researchers propose to utilize a pharmacological approach involving infusions of the sympathomimetic agent isoproterenol to repeatedly trigger cardiorespiratory sensations and anxiety during meal anticipation, to facilitate the development of tolerance or a reduction of the anxiety/fear response in individuals with anorexia nervosa. The investigators aim to conduct a proof of principle study to assess for evidence of initial efficacy of this new treatment approach. As a comparator condition, the researchers propose using repeated administration of saline infusions.

Detailed Study Description

Individuals with anorexia nervosa (AN) are afraid to eat. Moreover, anxiety is a prominent symptom in AN, with anxiety disorders frequently preceding and/or co-occurring with the illness, and with an increased prevalence of anxiety disorders in first-degree family members. Pre-meal anxiety poses a frequent challenge in treatment settings which require adherence to strict meal plans, particularly since it is associated with lower caloric intake. While problematic under current treatment settings, this illness characteristic also provides a potentially important therapeutic target. Unfortunately, straightforward pre-meal treatment with typically effective anxiolytic medicines such as alprazolam are ineffective in individuals with AN, nor do they increase caloric intake. By contrast, cognitive behavioral therapies for anorexia nervosa utilizing exposure therapy, the most effective psychological intervention for anxiety and anxiety disorders, can promote food intake and increase weight in AN. However, such treatments are slow and have less than ideal response rates, suggesting that they could benefit from further optimization. Exposure therapy involves helping patients to voluntarily engage in repeated and sometimes prolonged confrontation with the stimulus that disproportionately provokes the individual's fear. The aim of this practice is to facilitate the development of tolerance or a reduction of the anxiety/fear response that has become conditionally associated with the relevant stimulus, thereby demonstrating to patients that they can learn to manage effectively in the face of anxiety. In the case of anorexia nervosa, the repeated presentation of food and food cues (mental imagery, pictures, smells) elicits distress and facilitates the subsequent development of tolerance of these symptoms. Unfortunately, the effect size of this intervention in AN is relatively small. Here, the researchers investigate whether the use of an acute pharmacological intervention in the context of aversive learning to enhance exposure training can reduce anxiety associated with eating in individuals with anorexia nervosa.

Clinical Study Identifier: NCT03019081

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Sahib S Khalsa, MD, PhD

Laureate Institute for Brain Research
Tulsa, OK United States
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