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Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2018 May 1;314(5):E522-E529. doi: 10.1152/ajpendo.00335.2017. Epub 2018 Jan 30.

Humans with obesity have disordered brain responses to food images during physiological hyperglycemia.

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Section of Endocrinology, Department of Internal Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine , New Haven, Connecticut.
Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine , New Haven, Connecticut.
Department of Radiology, Yale University School of Medicine , New Haven, Connecticut.


Blood glucose levels influence brain regulation of food intake. This study assessed the effect of mild physiological hyperglycemia on brain response to food cues in individuals with obesity (OB) versus normal weight individuals (NW). Brain responses in 10 OB and 10 NW nondiabetic healthy adults [body mass index: 34 (3) vs. 23 (2) kg/m2, means (SD), P < 0.0001] were measured with functional MRI (blood oxygen level-dependent contrast) in combination with a two-step normoglycemic-hyperglycemic clamp. Participants were shown food and nonfood images during normoglycemia (~95 mg/dl) and hyperglycemia (~130 mg/dl). Plasma glucose levels were comparable in both groups during the two-step clamp ( P = not significant). Insulin and leptin levels were higher in the OB group compared with NW, whereas ghrelin levels were lower (all P < 0.05). During hyperglycemia, insula activity showed a group-by-glucose level effect. When compared with normoglycemia, hyperglycemia resulted in decreased activity in the hypothalamus and putamen in response to food images ( P < 0.001) in the NW group, whereas the OB group exhibited increased activity in insula, putamen, and anterior and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (aPFC/dlPFC; P < 0.001). These data suggest that OB, compared with NW, appears to have disruption of brain responses to food cues during hyperglycemia, with reduced insula response in NW but increased insula response in OB, an area involved in food perception and interoception. In a post hoc analysis, brain activity in obesity appears to be associated with dysregulated motivation (striatum) and inappropriate self-control (aPFC/dlPFC) to food cues during hyperglycemia. Hyperstimulation for food and insensitivity to internal homeostatic signals may favor food consumption to possibly play a role in the pathogenesis of obesity.


brain activity; fMRI; food cues; hyperglycemia; obesity

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