Behavioral Neurobiology of Eating Disorders

Volume 6 of the series Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences pp 141-156


The Heritability of Eating Disorders: Methods and Current Findings

  • Laura M. ThorntonAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Email author 
  • , Suzanne E. MazzeoAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Virginia Commonwealth University
  • , Cynthia M. BulikAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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Family, twin, and adoption studies of anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (BN), binge-eating disorder (BED), and the proposed purging disorder presentation (PD) have consistently demonstrated that genetic factors contribute to the variance in liability to eating disorders. In addition, endophenotypes and component phenotypes of eating disorders have been evaluated and provide further insight regarding genetic factors influencing eating disorders and eating disorder diagnostic criteria. Many of these phenotypes have demonstrated substantial heritability. This chapter reviews biometrical genetic methods and current findings from family and twin studies that investigate the role of genes and environment in the etiology of eating disorders. We review the methodology used to estimate heritability, the results of these studies, and discuss the implications of this research for the basic conceptualization of eating disorders and the future value of twin modeling in the molecular genetic era.


Anorexia nervosa Bulimia nervosa Eating disorders Endophenotypes Twin models