The effects of overfeeding on the neuronal response to visual food cues in thin and reduced-obese individuals

PLoS One. 2009 Jul 28;4(7):e6310. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0006310.


Background: The regulation of energy intake is a complex process involving the integration of homeostatic signals and both internal and external sensory inputs. The objective of this study was to examine the effects of short-term overfeeding on the neuronal response to food-related visual stimuli in individuals prone and resistant to weight gain.

Methodology/principal findings: 22 thin and 19 reduced-obese (RO) individuals were studied. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was performed in the fasted state after two days of eucaloric energy intake and after two days of 30% overfeeding in a counterbalanced design. fMRI was performed while subjects viewed images of foods of high hedonic value and neutral non-food objects. In the eucaloric state, food as compared to non-food images elicited significantly greater activation of insula and inferior visual cortex in thin as compared to RO individuals. Two days of overfeeding led to significant attenuation of not only insula and visual cortex responses but also of hypothalamus response in thin as compared to RO individuals.

Conclusions/significance: These findings emphasize the important role of food-related visual cues in ingestive behavior and suggest that there are important phenotypic differences in the interactions between external visual sensory inputs, energy balance status, and brain regions involved in the regulation of energy intake. Furthermore, alterations in the neuronal response to food cues may relate to the propensity to gain weight.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Appetite
  • Eating*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neurons / pathology*
  • Obesity / pathology*