The role of dopamine in motivation for food in humans: implications for obesity

Expert Opin Ther Targets. 2002 Oct;6(5):601-9. doi: 10.1517/14728222.6.5.601.


Obesity is a major public health problem. The increasing number of obese individuals in the US adds urgency to the efforts to understand the mechanisms underlying pathological overeating. Imaging studies using positron emission tomography implicate the involvement of brain dopamine (DA) in normal and pathological food intake in humans. In normal body weight, fasting subjects, food presentation that could not be consumed was associated with increases in striatal extracellular DA, which provides evidence of an involvement of DA in non-hedonic motivational properties of food intake. In pathologically obese subjects, the authors showed reductions in striatal D2 receptor availability that were inversely associated with the weight of the subject. The involvement of the DA system in reward and reinforcement has led to the hypothesis that low brain DA activity in obese subjects predisposes them to excessive use of food. A better understanding of the role of the DA system in the motivation for food intake will help the development of better therapeutic interventions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Appetite / drug effects
  • Appetite / physiology*
  • Brain Chemistry
  • Corpus Striatum / metabolism
  • Dopamine / physiology*
  • Dopamine Agonists / pharmacology
  • Dopamine Antagonists / toxicity
  • Dopamine D2 Receptor Antagonists
  • Feeding Behavior / drug effects
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / genetics
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamus / physiology
  • Limbic System / physiology
  • Methylphenidate / pharmacology
  • Obesity / chemically induced
  • Obesity / drug therapy
  • Obesity / etiology*
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Dopamine / drug effects
  • Receptors, Dopamine / physiology
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2 / genetics
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2 / physiology
  • Reward
  • Satiation / physiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / genetics
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology


  • Dopamine Agonists
  • Dopamine Antagonists
  • Dopamine D2 Receptor Antagonists
  • Receptors, Dopamine
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2
  • Methylphenidate
  • Dopamine