Differential activation of the dorsal striatum by high-calorie visual food stimuli in obese individuals

Neuroimage. 2007 Aug 15;37(2):410-21. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2007.05.008. Epub 2007 May 18.


The neural systems regulating food intake in obese individuals remain poorly understood. Previous studies applied positron emission tomography and manipulated hunger and satiety to investigate differences in appetitive processing between obese and normal-weight individuals. However, it is not known whether manipulation of stimulus value may yield different neural activity in obese as compared to control subjects when intrinsic physiological states are kept constant. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate 13 obese and 13 normal-weight subjects and manipulated food motivation by presenting visual food stimuli differing in their caloric content and energy density. In contrast to controls, obese women selectively activated the dorsal striatum while viewing high-caloric foods. Moreover, in the high-calorie condition body mass index (BMI) predicted activation in the dorsal striatum, anterior insula, claustrum, posterior cingulate, postcentral and lateral orbitofrontal cortex. The results indicate that in obese individuals simple visual stimulation with food stimuli activates regions related to reward anticipation and habit learning (dorsal striatum). Additionally, high-calorie food images yielded BMI-dependent activations in regions associated with taste information processing (anterior insula and lateral orbitofrontal cortex), motivation (orbitofrontal cortex), emotion as well as memory functions (posterior cingulate). Collectively, the results suggest that the observed activation is independent of the physiological states of hunger and satiation, and thus may contribute to pathological overeating and obesity. Some of the observed activations (dorsal striatum, orbitofrontal cortex) are likely to be dopamine-mediated.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Corpus Striatum / physiology*
  • Female
  • Food*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Photic Stimulation