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A meta-analysis of cytokine concentrations in eating disorders

Cytokines are signalling molecules, which play an important role in both immune system function and brain development and function, and subsequently mental states and behaviour. Cytokines have been implicated in eating disorders (EDs) due to their role in psychological health, body weight and appetite regulation. This meta-analysis examined cross-sectional and longitudinal studies measuring concentrations of cytokines in individuals with EDs. Using PRISMA guidelines, we systematically reviewed relevant articles in PubMed, Web of Science, and MEDLINE. Random-effects meta-analyses were conducted for interleukin (IL)-1β, IL-6, transforming growth factor (TGF)-β, and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α, independently, firstly with all EDs combined and then stratified by ED diagnosis. Twenty-five studies were included: serum/plasma cytokine concentrations were measured in people with anorexia nervosa (AN) in 23 studies and bulimia nervosa (BN) in 4 studies. TNF-α and IL-6 were elevated in ED participants compared to healthy controls (HCs). Specifically, this pattern was seen only when comparing AN participants to HCs. Concentrations of these cytokines did not differ between people with BN and HCs. IL-1β and TGF-β did not differ between HCs and any ED group. Therefore, AN seems to be associated with elevated concentrations of TNF-α and IL-6. Considering the role of cytokines in appetite, mood regulation, and anxiety, these pro-inflammatory cytokines could be a potential future drug target to help people with AN, not only with weight gain, but also with various coexisting psychological problems. Future studies should consider confounding factors that affect cytokine concentrations and report ED-relevant clinical characteristics.

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