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Successful pharmacotherapy for the treatment of severe feeding aversion with mechanistic insights from cross-species neuronal remodeling.

Transl Psychiatry. 2017 Jun 20;7(6):e1157

Authors: Sharp WG, Allen AG, Stubbs KH, Criado KK, Sanders R, McCracken CE, Parsons RG, Scahill L, Gourley SL

Pediatric feeding disorders affect up to 5% of children, causing severe food intake problems that can result in serious medical and developmental outcomes. Behavioral intervention (BI) is effective in extinguishing feeding aversions, and also expert-dependent, time/labor-intensive and not well understood at a neurobiological level. Here we first conducted a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial comparing BI with BI plus d-cycloserine (DCS). DCS is a partial N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptor agonist shown to augment extinction therapies in multiple anxiety disorders. We examined whether DCS enhanced extinction of feeding aversion in 15 children with avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ages 20-58 months). After five treatment days, BI improved feeding by 37%. By contrast, BI+DCS improved feeding by 76%. To gain insight into possible mechanisms of successful intervention, we next tested the neurobiological consequences of DCS in a murine model of feeding aversion and avoidance. In mice with conditioned food aversion, DCS enhanced avoidance extinction across a broad dose range. Confocal fluorescence microscopy and three-dimensional neuronal reconstruction indicated that DCS enlarged dendritic spine heads-the primary sites of excitatory plasticity in the brain-within the orbitofrontal prefrontal cortex, a sensory-cognition integration hub. DCS also increased phosphorylation of the plasticity-associated extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2. In summary, DCS successfully augments the extinction of food aversion in children and mice, an effect that may involve plasticity in the orbitofrontal cortex. These results warrant a larger-scale efficacy study of DCS for the treatment of pediatric feeding disorders and further investigations of neural mechanisms.

PMID: 28632204 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

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