About me

Associate Professor in Neuroscience and responsible for techniques for Spatial Biology at KIGene

Research description

The neurobiology of anorexia nervosa

The research of our team is focused on the eating disorders anorexia nervosa (AN). AN is a severe psychiatric disorder characterised by restriction of energy intake leading to a significantly low body weight, an intense fear of weight gain, and a distorted experience of one’s own body weight or shape. The course of AN can be prolonged and may lead to enduring disability, in particular for the individuals with the often called severe and enduring AN. With a 10% mortality, AN is among the most lethal of all psychiatric disorders. Unfortunately, there is still no evidence-based pharmacological treatment for AN, and the optimal treatment, psychological as well as pharmaceutical, is debated. 

One central and unexplained feature of AN is the paradoxical response to negative energy balance. While most people cannot lose a few kilos, these individuals stay in an emaciated and starved condition commonly for many years. Even after therapeutic renourishment, their bodies commonly revert to what appears to be a negative set point, i.e. the inverse of happens for obese individuals. AN genome-wide association studies have yielded significant negative single-nucleotide-based genetic correlations with BMI and other anthropometric measures, which seems to indicate a genetic predisposition for a lower body weight set point in AN. However, we do not understand the (neuro)biological underpinnings of such a set point nor the mechanisms explaining the contradictory response to underweight in AN. 

The overall goal of our group is to understand the molecular mechanisms involved in food intake in general, and in the elective starvation of AN in particular. Our main hypothesis involves dysregulated hypothalamic circuits. Upon defining the neurobiological mechanisms and molecular players involved in the paradoxical response to underweight in AN, will we be able to find new pharmacological targets, as well as vulnerability markers. Pharmacological therapy, preventing the continued starvation and the loss of weight after recovery, could be combined with the today most commonly used treatment for AN; psycho- and nutritional therapy. Finally, extending the understanding of the neurobiology of AN will reduce the stigma surrounding AN, thus promoting early treatment and reduced mortality.


Most recent publications:

Duriez P, Nilsson IAK, Le Thuc O, Alexandre D, Chartrel N, Rovere C, Chauveau C, Gorwood P, Tolle V, Viltart O. Exploring the mechanisms of recovery in anorexia nervosa through a translational approach: from original ecological measurements in human to brain tissue analyses in mouse. Nutrients. 2021 Aug 13;13(8):2786. doi: 10.3390/nu13082786.PMID: 34444945 

Salehi M A, Nilsson IA, Figueira J, Thornton LM, Abdulkarim I, Pålsson E, Bulik CM, Landén M. Serum profiling of anorexia nervosa: A 1H NMR-based metabolomics study. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2021 Mar 17;49:1-10. doi: 10.1016/j.euroneuro.2021.02.015. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 33743376.

Nilsson IAK, Millischer V, Göteson A, Hübel C, Thornton LM, Bulik CM, Schalling M, Landén M. Aberrant inflammatory profile in acute but not recovered anorexia nervosa. Brain Behav Immun. 2020 Aug;88:718-724. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2020.05.024. Epub 2020 May 7. PMID: 32389698.

D'Addario C, Zaplatic E, Giunti E, Pucci M, Micioni Di Bonaventura MV, Scherma M, Dainese E, Maccarrone M, Nilsson IA, Cifani C, Fadda P. Epigenetic regulation of the cannabinoid receptor CB1 in an activity-based rat model of anorexia nervosa. Int J Eat Disord. 2020 May;53(5):432-446. doi: 10.1002/eat.23271. Epub 2020 Apr 10. Erratum in: Int J Eat Disord. 2020 Dec;53(12):2095. PMID: 32275093.

Kong L, Nilsson IAK, Brismar K, Gissler M, Lavebratt C. Associations of Different Types of Maternal Diabetes and Body Mass Index With Offspring Psychiatric Disorders. JAMA Netw Open. 2020 Feb 5;3(2):e1920787. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.20787. PMID: 32031649.

Florent V, Baroncini M, Jissendi-Tchofo P, Lopes R, Vanhoutte M, Rasika S, Pruvo JP, Vignau J, Verdun S, Johansen JE, Pigeyre M, Bouret SG, Nilsson IAK, Prevot V. Hypothalamic Structural and Functional Imbalances in Anorexia Nervosa. Neuroendocrinology. 2020;110(6):552-562. doi: 10.1159/000503147. Epub 2019 Sep 5. PMID: 31484186.

Nilsson IAK, Millischer V, Karrenbauer VD, Juréus A, Salehi AM, Norring C, von Hausswolff-Juhlin Y, Schalling M, Blennow K, Bulik CM, Zetterberg H, Landén M. Plasma neurofilament light chain concentration is increased in anorexia nervosa. Transl Psychiatry. 2019 Aug 1;9(1):180. doi: 10.1038/s41398-019-0518-2. PMID: 31371701; PMCID: PMC6675786.

Nilsson IAK. The anx/anx Mouse - A Valuable Resource in Anorexia Nervosa Research. Front Neurosci. 2019 Feb 5;13:59. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2019.00059. PMID: 30804742; PMCID: PMC6370726.

Kong L, Nilsson IAK, Gissler M, Lavebratt C. Associations of Maternal Diabetes and Body Mass Index With Offspring Birth Weight and Prematurity. JAMA Pediatr. 2019 Apr 1;173(4):371-378. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.5541. PMID: 30801637; PMCID: PMC6450270.


MSc in Nutrition, Stockholm University, 2004

PhD in Medical Science, Karolinska Instituet, 2010

Postdoctoral Training, Lab of Dir. Vincent Prévot, INSERM, Lille (FR), 2011

Academic honours, awards and prizes

NARSAD Young Investigator 2013-2014