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Pitt, VCU researchers find genetic link to bulimia nervosa


A team of researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center have linked an area of chromosome 10p to families with a history of bulimia nervosa, providing strong evidence that genes play a determining role in who is susceptible to developing the eating disorder.

The finding, gleaned from blood studies of 316 patients with bulimia and their family members, is the result of the first multinational collaborative genome-wide linkage scan to look exclusively at bulimia. Earlier this year, another linkage scan found evidence of genes for the eating disorder anorexia nervosa on chromosome 1.

This study, led by Walter H. Kaye, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (WPIC), and authored by Cynthia M. Bulik, Ph.D., a professor in VCU’s Department of Psychiatry and a researcher at the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics in Richmond, VA, appears today in the online edition of the American Journal of Human Genetics. It will be published in the Jan. 1, 2003 print edition.

Bulimia is a psychiatric disorder characterized by episodes of binge-eating (eating unusually large amounts of food in a short time and feeling out of control), compensatory behavior such as self-induced vomiting and laxative abuse and over-concern about body shape and weight.

The results build upon the authors’ prior research involving twins with bulimia in which they found the first evidence of bulimia’s heritability.

"This linkage study takes the twin studies one step further and informs us where to start looking in the genome for genes that may influence bulimia nervosa," said Dr. Bulik.

"Studies such as this one should help us understand how differences in the genes of some individuals contribute to this illness," said Dr. Kaye. "Identifying this region on 10p is an important step in what may be a long search for more effective treatments and preventative therapies for bulimia."

"Despite progress in understanding the biological and genetic underpinnings of eating disorders, the perception remains that these are self-imposed and socio-culturally caused disorders," said Dr. Bulik. "Our twin research has been showing that bulimia nervosa is hereditary, but the human genome is huge, and it will take many years of this type of research to narrow down our search for these genes."

The research was funded by the Price Foundation, a private, European-based foundation that, for more than a decade, has supported Drs. Bulik and Kaye and a group of collaborators at 10 locations in North America and Europe. Over the past several years, this group of researchers, under the principal direction of Dr. Kaye, has been successful at recruiting study participants. In the past two years, it has made tremendous progress in the search for genetic clues to eating disorders, including bulimia and anorexia nervosa. In October, Dr. Kaye announced that the National Institute of Mental Health had awarded the group a five-year, $10-million grant to study anorexia, the first time the government has funded genetic research of eating disorders.

The other researchers include Bernie Devlin, Silviu-Alin Bacanu and Laura Thornton, Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; Kelly L. Klump, Department of Psychiatry, Michigan State University; Manfred M. Fichter, Roseneck Hospital for Behavioural Medicine, University of Munich; Katherine A. Halmi, New York Presbyterian Hospital, Weill Medical College of Cornell University; Allan S. Kaplan and D. Blake Woodside, Program for Eating Disorders, Department of Psychiatry, University Health Network, Toronto General Hospital; Michael Strober, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, University of California at Los Angeles; Andrew W. Bergen, Core Genotyping Facility, Advanced Technology Center, National Cancer Institute; Kelly Ganjei, Biognosis, U.S., Inc.; Scott Crow, Department of Psychiatry, University of Minnesota; James Mitchell, Neuropsychiatric Research Institute; Alessandro Rotondo, Mauro Mauri and Giovanni Cassano, Department of Psychiatry, Neurobiology, Pharmacology and Biotechnologies, University of Pisa; Pamela Keel, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard University; and Wade H. Berrettini, Center of Neurobiology and Behavior, University of Pennsylvania.

About VCU: Virginia Commonwealth University is ranked by the Carnegie Foundation as one of the nation’s top research universities. Located on two campuses in Richmond, VA, VCU enrolls 26,000 students in more than 160 undergraduate, graduate, professional, doctoral and post-graduate certificate degree programs at 11 schools and one college. Sixteen graduate and professional programs have been ranked by U.S. News & World Report as among the best of their kind in the nation. The VCU Health System is one of the leading academic medical centers in the country. The Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics is a multi-disciplined, integrated research program of VCU’s departments of psychiatry and human genetics, focused on identifying genes and environments that cause psychiatric diseases and behavioral differences. See

About WPIC: The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic is one of the nation’s foremost university-based psychiatric hospitals and one of the world’s largest centers for research and treatment of affective disorders. The university’s Department of Psychiatry is the nation’s largest recipient of National Institutes of Health funding for psychiatric research. WPIC is known worldwide for its research and treatment programs in depression, Alzheimer’s disease, sleep disorders, eating disorders, schizophrenia and other mental health problems. See

CONTACT: Craig Dunhoff, UPMC News Bureau
PHONE: (412) 647-3555

CONTACT: Cynthia M. Bulik, Ph.D., Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics
PHONE: (804) 828-8133

CONTACT: Lorraine Cichowski, VCU News Services
PHONE: (804) 828-1231

Craig Dunhoff | EurekAlert!
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