Neuroimaging and obesity: mapping the brain responses to hunger and satiation in humans using positron emission tomography

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2002 Jun;967:389-97.


The hypothalamus has a major role in the control of food intake. However, neurotracing studies have shown that the hypothalamus receives input from several other regions of the brain that are likely to modulate its activity. Of particular interest to the understanding of human eating behavior is the possible involvement of the cortex. Using positron emission tomography (PET), we generated functional brain maps of the neuroanatomical correlates of hunger (after a 36-h fast) and satiation (after oral administration of a liquid formula meal) in lean and obese subjects. Results in lean individuals indicate that the neuroanatomical correlates of hunger form a complex network of brain regions including the hypothalamus, thalamus, and several limbic/paralimbic areas such as the insula, hippocampal/parahippocampal formation, and the orbitofrontal cortex. Satiation was associated with preferentially increased neuronal activity in the prefrontal cortex. Our studies also indicate that the brain responses to hunger/satiation in the hypothalamus, limbic/paralimbic areas (commonly associated with the regulation of emotion), and prefrontal cortex (thought to be involved in the inhibition of inappropriate response tendencies) might be different in obese and lean individuals. In conclusion, neuroimaging of the human brain is proving to be an important tool for understanding the complexity of brain involvement in the regulation of eating behavior. PET studies might help to unravel the neuropathophysiology underlying human obesity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hunger / physiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed