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PLoS One. 2013;8(3):e59114. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0059114. Epub 2013 Mar 21.

Effects of reduced weight maintenance and leptin repletion on functional connectivity of the hypothalamus in obese humans.

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Department of Neuroscience, Columbia University Medical Center/New York Presbyterian Medical Center, New York, NY, USA.


Treating obesity has proven to be an intractable challenge, in part, due to the difficulty of maintaining reduced weight. In our previous studies of in-patient obese subjects, we have shown that leptin repletion following a 10% or greater weight loss reduces many of the metabolic (decreased energy expenditure, sympathetic nervous system tone, and bioactive thyroid hormones) and behavioral (delayed satiation) changes that favor regain of lost weight. FMRI studies of these same subjects have shown leptin-sensitive increases in activation of the right hypothalamus and reduced activation of the cingulate, medial frontal and parahippocampal gryi, following weight loss, in response to food stimuli. In the present study, we expanded our cohort of in-patient subjects and employed psychophysiological interaction (PPI) analysis to examine changes in the functional connectivity of the right hypothalamus. During reduced-weight maintenance with placebo injections, the functional connectivity of the hypothalamus increased with visual areas and the dorsal anterior cingulate (dorsal ACC) in response to food cues, consistent with higher sensitivity to food. During reduced-weight maintenance with leptin injections, however, the functional connectivity of the right hypothalamus increased with the mid-insula and the central and parietal operculae, suggesting increased coupling with the interoceptive system, and decreased with the orbital frontal cortex, frontal pole and the dorsal ACC, suggesting a down-regulated sensitivity to food. These findings reveal neural mechanisms that may underlie observed changes in sensitivity to food cues in the obese population during reduced-weight maintenance and leptin repletion.

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