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Lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse) Changes Brain Connectivity & Activation to Treat Binge Eating Disorder (2023 Study)

Binge-eating disorder (BED), characterized by recurrent episodes of overeating without compensatory behaviors, is a significant global health concern.

Lisdexamfetamine dimesylate (LDX), the only drug approved for moderate to severe BED, is showing promise not just in reducing episodes but also in altering brain function in ways previously not fully understood.

Through a groundbreaking study, researchers have begun to map out how LDX impacts the functional connectivity within the brain, offering hope for more targeted treatments in the future.


  1. BED Prevalence: BED is the most common eating disorder in the United States, affecting 1.4% of women and 0.6% of men globally.
  2. LDX Action: LDX, a prodrug of d-amphetamine, is effective in reducing binge-eating frequency and improving control over eating by modulating brain networks.
  3. Functional Connectivity Changes: Treatment with LDX results in significant changes in brain networks related to self-referential processing, executive function, and reward, which are pivotal in the therapeutic effect of LDX in BED.
  4. Treatment Implications: Understanding how LDX alters brain function can guide the development of more specific therapies for BED and help identify individuals who would benefit most from this medication.

Source: Biological Psychiatry Global Open Science (2023)

Lisdexamfetamine for Binge Eating Disorder (Overview)

Binge-Eating Disorder (BED) is characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food in a short period, accompanied by feelings of loss of control and significant distress.

Unlike bulimia nervosa, BED does not involve regular use of compensatory measures, such as purging, to counteract the binge eating.

It’s the most common eating disorder in the United States, affecting a significant portion of the population across different ages and genders, leading to various psychological and physical health issues, including obesity, depression, and cardiovascular diseases.

Lisdexamfetamine Dimesylate (LDX), marketed under the brand name Vyvanse, is a prodrug of the central nervous system (CNS) stimulant d-amphetamine.

It is the first and only medication approved by the FDA specifically for the treatment of moderate to severe BED in adults.

Initially developed and approved for the treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), its use was extended to BED after clinical trials demonstrated its efficacy in reducing the number of binge-eating days in individuals with the disorder.

How Lisdexamfetamine Treats Binge Eating Disorder (Mechanisms)

Lisdexamfetamine dimesylate (LDX) represents a significant advancement in the treatment of binge eating disorder (BED), offering relief where behavioral therapies alone may not suffice.

The efficacy of LDX in treating BED can be attributed to its sophisticated action on the brain’s neurochemical landscape, primarily through the modulation of dopamine and norepinephrine levels.

1. Neurotransmitter Modulation

At the heart of LDX’s action is its ability to increase the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, neurotransmitters integral to the regulation of mood, reward, and executive functions.

Dopamine is particularly central to the brain’s reward system, influencing how rewards are perceived and pursued.

In the context of BED, dysregulation in dopamine pathways may contribute to the overvaluation of food as a reward, driving compulsive eating behaviors despite negative consequences.

Norepinephrine, on the other hand, plays a key role in attention and arousal, influencing impulsivity and the ability to exert control over behaviors.

  • Dopamine & Reward Sensitivity: LDX increases dopamine availability in the synaptic cleft, thereby modulating the reward system’s sensitivity. By normalizing dopamine levels, LDX may help reduce the exaggerated reward value attributed to food, making it easier for individuals with BED to resist binge-eating urges. This modulation of reward sensitivity is crucial for breaking the cycle of binge eating.
  • Norepinephrine & Executive Function: The enhancement of norepinephrine levels by LDX supports improved executive function, including better decision-making, planning, and impulse control. For individuals with BED, this means an enhanced capacity to resist the immediate gratification offered by binge eating, fostering more adaptive eating behaviors over time.
  • Impulsivity Reduction: Impulsivity is a hallmark of BED, linked to deficits in inhibitory control within the brain’s executive networks. By boosting norepinephrine, LDX strengthens the functioning of these networks, enabling individuals to exert greater control over their eating behaviors.

2. Connectivity, Plasticity, Behavioral Effects

While the modulation of dopamine and norepinephrine levels is central to LDX’s mechanism of action, its therapeutic effects in BED extend beyond simple neurotransmitter enhancement.

LDX’s influence on brain function is multifaceted, involving alterations in neural connectivity and activity patterns across various brain regions implicated in reward processing, self-regulation, and habit formation.

  • Neural Connectivity: By affecting neurotransmitter levels, LDX indirectly influences the functional connectivity between brain regions involved in reward, motivation, and executive control. This can lead to improved integration of cognitive and emotional processes, aiding in the regulation of eating behavior.
  • Neuroplasticity: Long-term treatment with LDX may also promote neuroplastic changes, strengthening neural pathways that support healthy eating behaviors and weakening those associated with the compulsivity of binge eating. This aspect of LDX’s action underscores its potential for producing enduring changes in brain function and behavior.
  • Behavioral Reinforcement: The pharmacological effects of LDX facilitate the reinforcement of positive eating behaviors. As individuals experience fewer binge episodes, the reduction in negative outcomes (e.g., guilt, physical discomfort) reinforces the motivation to maintain control over eating.

Major Findings: Study of Lisdexamfetamine on Brain Connectivity in Binge Eating Disorder (2023)

Griffiths et al. sought to determine the effects of Lisdexamfetamine Dimesylate (LDX) on the functional connectivity (FC) of brain networks in patients with Binge-Eating Disorder (BED).

Utilizing resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the research provides compelling insights into the neural mechanisms underlying the therapeutic benefits of LDX.

The findings shed light on the extensive neural FC changes associated with LDX treatment and their correlation with clinical improvements in BED symptoms.

Clinical Improvements Observed

A critical outcome of the LDX treatment was the significant reduction in binge-eating frequency and severity among participants.

Remarkably, 97% of those completing the trial experienced remission or a reduction to mild symptoms of BED, highlighting LDX’s efficacy as a therapeutic agent.

This substantial clinical improvement set the stage for investigating the corresponding changes in brain function.

Functional Brain Connectivity Changes

1. Default Mode to Limbic Network (DMN-LN)

  • The study uncovered that changes in connectivity between the Default Mode Network (DMN) and Limbic Network (LN) were closely associated with clinical improvements.
  • The DMN is involved in self-referential processing and mind-wandering, while the LN plays a crucial role in emotional regulation and reward processing.
  • The observed changes suggest that LDX may facilitate a better integration of self-awareness with emotional and reward responses, contributing to improved control over binge-eating behaviors.

2. Executive Control to Subcortical Network (ECN-Subcortical)

  • Enhancements in the connectivity between the Executive Control Network (ECN) and subcortical areas were also significant.
  • The ECN is essential for cognitive control and decision-making, whereas subcortical structures are involved in basic processing of emotions and rewards.
  • The improved connectivity indicates that LDX may enhance cognitive control over impulsivity and reward-seeking behaviors, which are often exacerbated in BED.

3. Default Mode to Executive Control Network (DMN-ECN)

  • Alterations in the connectivity between the DMN and ECN highlight another crucial mechanism by which LDX may exert its effects.
  • This finding suggests a potential increase in the integration of self-referential processing with executive functions.
  • Such changes could reflect an enhanced ability of individuals to regulate and modify reward-driven behaviors, aiding in the reduction of binge-eating episodes.

Network Activation vs. Normalization

A pivotal aspect of the study’s findings is the indication that LDX’s therapeutic action does not primarily involve normalizing the aberrant connectivity patterns typically seen in BED.

Instead, the medication appears to activate compensatory changes in various brain networks.

This nuanced understanding is significant, as it suggests that LDX facilitates behavioral improvement through the activation of alternative neural pathways rather than merely correcting the dysfunctional ones.

Lisdexamfetamine in Binge Eating Disorder vs. Brain Connectivity (2023 Trial)

The primary aim of the study was to investigate how lisdexamfetamine dimesylate (LDX) affects the functional connectivity (FC) within the brain of patients with binge-eating disorder (BED).


  • Participants & Design: The study involved 46 participants diagnosed with moderate to severe BED and 20 age-matched healthy control participants. BED participants received LDX, titrated to 50 or 70 mg, over an 8-week period.
  • Functional MRI: Resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was utilized to examine changes in brain FC before and after LDX treatment. These changes were then correlated with clinical measures of BED severity to assess the therapeutic impact of LDX.
  • Data Analysis: Comprehensive data-driven analyses, including network-based statistics, were employed to identify significant changes in FC within and between brain networks. The study specifically focused on networks involved in self-referential processing (default mode network), executive function (executive control network), and reward (limbic network).


  • A significant majority (97%) of participants completing the trial experienced either remission or a reduction to mild BED symptoms.
  • Widespread neural FC changes were observed post-treatment, highlighting alterations in the connectivity between the default mode, limbic, and executive control networks.
  • Improvements in BED symptoms were associated with changes in specific network pairs: DMN-LN, ECN-subcortical, and DMN-ECN.
  • These changes indicate that LDX may enhance the brain’s ability to regulate reward-driven behaviors, executive function, and self-awareness, which are crucial for controlling binge-eating episodes.
  • The study found that LDX does not act by normalizing aberrant connectivity typical of BED. Instead, it appears to activate compensatory changes in other networks, facilitating behavioral improvement.


  • Sample Size & Diversity: With a relatively modest sample size, the study’s ability to generalize findings across the broader BED population may be limited. Further research with larger, more diverse samples is necessary to validate these findings.
  • Lack of Predictive Biomarkers: The study was unable to identify baseline functional connectivity patterns that could predict individual response to LDX treatment, suggesting the need for further research to identify potential biomarkers.
  • Control Group Design: The healthy control group did not receive any intervention, and the study did not include a placebo group among the BED participants, which could impact the interpretation of the LDX-specific effects on brain function.
  • Comorbidities & BMI Matching: The study included participants with common comorbidities and did not strictly control for body mass index (BMI) between BED and control groups, potentially confounding the results.

Specific Neural Changes from Lisdexamfetamine Treatment in Binge Eating Disorder

The study provides a deeper insight into the neural mechanisms through which LDX exerts its therapeutic effects in BED beyond the traditional understanding of neurotransmitter modulation.

  1. Enhanced Connectivity within Executive & Reward Networks: LDX treatment was associated with increased integration between executive control and reward systems, suggesting an improved ability of individuals to exert control over reward-driven eating behaviors.
  2. Modulation of Self-Referential Processing: Changes in the connectivity between the default mode network and other networks implicated in self-referential processing and emotional regulation suggest that LDX may help individuals achieve a better alignment of their eating behaviors with their internal states and goals.
  3. Activation of Compensatory Neural Pathways: Rather than merely normalizing dysfunctional brain circuits traditionally associated with BED, LDX appears to activate alternative, compensatory neural pathways that facilitate the regulation of eating behaviors.

Potential Implications & Applications of the Study’s Findings on Lisdexamfetamine in Binge-Eating Disorder

The groundbreaking findings from the study on lisdexamfetamine dimesylate (LDX) and its impact on the functional connectivity of brain networks in individuals with binge-eating disorder (BED) have several implications and applications for the field of mental health, clinical practice, and therapeutic development.

1. Refinement of Treatment Protocols for BED

Understanding the specific brain networks affected by LDX allows for the refinement of treatment protocols for BED.

Clinicians may leverage this knowledge to identify patients who are most likely to benefit from LDX based on their brain network characteristics, leading to more personalized and effective treatment plans.

2. Development of Biomarkers for BED

The study’s insights into the neural mechanisms of LDX action could facilitate the development of biomarkers for BED.

These biomarkers could predict treatment response, enabling clinicians to tailor interventions more precisely and monitor treatment progress through non-invasive imaging techniques.

3. Enhanced Understanding of BED Pathophysiology

By elucidating the changes in brain network connectivity associated with effective BED treatment, this research contributes to a deeper understanding of the disorder’s underlying pathophysiology.

It highlights the importance of compensatory neural mechanisms and the role of executive function and reward systems in BED, potentially guiding future research into the neurobiological basis of eating disorders.

4. Innovation in Therapeutic Approaches

The identification of compensatory neural pathways activated by LDX opens new avenues for therapeutic innovation.

Researchers and pharmaceutical companies could explore other compounds or interventions that target similar pathways, potentially leading to the development of new medications or non-pharmacological interventions (e.g., neuromodulation techniques) that mimic or enhance these effects.

5. Integration with Psychotherapeutic Treatments

The findings could inform the integration of pharmacotherapy with psychotherapeutic treatments for BED.

For instance, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and other psychotherapies could be tailored to focus more on enhancing executive function and modifying reward processing, in conjunction with LDX treatment, to achieve better outcomes.

Conclusion: Lisdexamfetamine & Neural Circuits in Binge Eating Disorder

The study sheds new light on the sophisticated neural underpinnings of LDX’s efficacy in treating BED, moving beyond the simplistic view of neurotransmitter modulation to a more integrated understanding of brain network dynamics.

It underscores the drug’s capacity to enhance cognitive control over eating behaviors, align individuals’ eating patterns with their internal states and goals, and invoke compensatory neural mechanisms to combat the disorder.

These findings not only affirm LDX’s role as a pivotal treatment option for BED but also open avenues for future research into targeted interventions that address the complex neural networks involved in the disorder.

As we delve deeper into the brain’s intricate networks, the potential to refine and develop more effective treatments for BED and other eating disorders becomes increasingly promising.


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