Predicting clinical outcome using brain activation associated with set-shifting and central coherence skills in Anorexia Nervosa

Amy S. Garrett, James Lock, Nandini Datta, Judy Beenhaker, Shelli R. Kesler, Allan L. Reiss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Background: Patients with Anorexia Nervosa (AN) have neuropsychological deficits in Set-Shifting (SS) and central coherence (CC) consistent with an inflexible thinking style and overly detailed processing style, respectively. This study investigates brain activation during SS and CC tasks in patients with AN and tests whether this activation is a biomarker that predicts response to treatment. Methods: FMRI data were collected from 21 females with AN while performing an SS task (the Wisconsin Card Sort) and a CC task (embedded figures), and used to predict outcome following 16 weeks of treatment (either 16 weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy or 8 weeks cognitive remediation therapy followed by 8 weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy). Results: Significant activation during the SS task included bilateral dorsolateral and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and left anterior middle frontal gyrus. Higher scores on the neuropsychological test of SS (measured outside the scanner at baseline) were correlated with greater DLPFC and VLPFC/insula activation. Improvements in SS following treatment were significantly predicted by a combination of low VLPFC/insula and high anterior middle frontal activation ( R squared = .68, p = .001). For the CC task, visual and parietal cortical areas were activated, but were not significantly correlated with neuropsychological measures of CC and did not predict outcome. Conclusion: Cognitive flexibility requires the support of several prefrontal cortex resources. As previous studies suggest that the VLPFC is important for selecting context-appropriate responses, patients who have difficulties with this skill may benefit the most from cognitive therapy with or without cognitive remediation therapy. The ability to sustain inhibition of an unwanted response, subserved by the anterior middle frontal gyrus, is a cognitive feature that predicts favorable outcome to cognitive treatment. CC deficits may not be an effective predictor of clinical outcome.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)26-33
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Psychiatric Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Central coherence
  • Neuroimaging
  • Set-shifting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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