In pursuit of biomarkers for predicting susceptibility to activity-based anorexia in adolescent female rats

Laura Karina Milton, Timothy Patton, Meredith O'Keeffe, Brian John Oldfield, Claire Jennifer Foldi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: Identifying risk factors that contribute to the development of anorexia nervosa (AN) is critical for the implementation of early intervention strategies. Anxiety, obsessive–compulsive behavior, and immune dysfunction may be involved in the development of AN; however, their direct influence on susceptibility to the condition remains unclear. Here, we used the activity-based anorexia (ABA) model to examine whether activity, anxiety-like behavior, compulsive behavior, and circulating immune markers predict the subsequent development of pathological weight loss. Method: Female Sprague–Dawley rats (n = 44) underwent behavioral testing before exposure to ABA conditions after which they were separated into susceptible and resistant subpopulations. Blood was sampled before behavioral testing and after recovery from ABA to screen for proinflammatory cytokines. Results: Rats that were vulnerable to pathological weight loss differed significantly from resistant rats on all key ABA parameters. While the primary measures of anxiety-like or compulsive behavior were not shown to predict vulnerability to ABA, increased locomotion and anxiety-like behavior were both associated with the extent of weight loss in susceptible but not resistant animals. Moreover, the change in expression of proinflammatory markers IL-4 and IL-6 evoked by ABA was associated with discrete vulnerability factors. Intriguingly, behavior related to risk assessment was shown to predict vulnerability to ABA. Discussion: We did not find undisputable behavioral or immune predictors of susceptibility to pathological weight loss in the ABA rat model. Future research should examine the role of cognition in the development of ABA, dysfunction of which may represent an endophenotype linking anorectic, anxiety-like and compulsive behavior. Public Significance: Anorexia nervosa (AN) has among the highest mortality rates of all psychiatric disorders and treatment options remain limited in their efficacy. Understanding what types of risk factors contribute to the development of AN is essential for implementing early intervention strategies. This study describes how some of the most common psychological features of AN could be used to predict susceptibility to pathological weight loss in a well-established animal model.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)664-677
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Eating Disorders
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2022


  • anorexia nervosa
  • anxiety disorders
  • biomarkers
  • cytokines
  • disease models (animal)
  • immune system
  • obsessive–compulsive disorder
  • predisposing factors
  • weight loss

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