There is a growing awareness in the field of neuroscience that the self-regulation of eating behavior is driven by complex networks within the brain. These networks may be vulnerable to "hot states" which people can move into and out of dynamically throughout the course of a day as a function of changes in affect or visceral cues. The goal of the current study was to identify and determine differences in the Hot-state Brain Network of Appetite (HBN-A) that exists after a brief period of food restraint followed either by the consumption of a meal replacement (MR) or water. Fourteen overweight/obese adults came to our laboratory on two different occasions. Both times they consumed a controlled breakfast meal and then were restricted from eating for 2.5 h prior to an MRI scan. On one visit, they consumed a meal replacement (MR) liquid meal after this period of food restriction; on the other visit they consumed an equal amount of water. After these manipulations, the participants underwent a resting fMRI scan. Our first study aim employed an exploratory, data-driven approach to identify hubs relevant to the HBN-A. Using data from the water condition, five regions were found to be the hubs or nodes of the HBN-A: insula, anterior cingulated cortex, the superior temporal pole, the amygdala, and the hippocampus. We then demonstrated that the consumption of a liquid MR dampened interconnectivity between the nodes of the HBN-A as compared to water. Importantly and consistent with these network data, the consumption of a MR beverage also lowered state cravings and hunger.
Keywords: brain networks; craving; eating behavior; graph-theory; meal replacement; obesity.