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Behav Brain Res. 2006 Apr 25;169(1):111-9. Epub 2006 Jan 30.

Cerebral processing of food-related stimuli: effects of fasting and gender.

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King's College London, Institute of Psychiatry PO59, DeCrespigny Park, London SE5 8AF, UK.


To maintain nutritional homeostasis, external food-related stimuli have to be evaluated in relation to the internal states of hunger or satiety. To examine the neural circuitry responsible for integration of internal and external determinants of human eating behaviour, brain responses to visual and complex gustatory food-related stimuli were measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging in 18 healthy non-smokers (10 women, 8 men). Each individual was studied on two occasions, the order of which was counterbalanced; after eating as usual and after 24 h fasting. Raised plasma free fatty acids and lower insulin and leptin concentrations confirmed that participants fasted as requested. When fasted, participants reported more hunger, nervousness and worse mood and rated the visual (but not gustatory) food-related stimuli as more pleasant. The effect of fasting on hunger was stronger in women than in men. No circuitry was identified as differentially responsive in fasting compared to satiety to both visual and gustatory food-related stimuli. The left insula response to the gustatory stimuli was stronger during fasting. The inferior occipito-temporal response to visual food-related stimuli also tended to be stronger during fasting. The responses in the occipito-temporal cortex to visual and in the insula to gustatory stimuli were stronger in women than in men. There was no interaction between gender and fasting. In conclusion, food reactivity in modality-specific sensory cortical areas is modulated by internal motivational states. The stronger reactivity to external food-related stimuli in women may be explored as a marker of gender-related susceptibility to eating disorders.

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