Imaging methodologies and applications for nutrition research: what can functional MRI offer?

Proc Nutr Soc. 2015 May;74(2):89-98. doi: 10.1017/S0029665114001530. Epub 2014 Oct 24.


Food intake is influenced by a complex regulatory system involving the integration of a wide variety of sensory inputs across multiple brain areas. Over the past decade, advances in neuroimaging using functional MRI (fMRI) have provided valuable insight into these pathways in the human brain. This review provides an outline of the methodology of fMRI, introducing the widely used blood oxygenation level-dependent contrast for fMRI and direct measures of cerebral blood flow using arterial spin labelling. A review of fMRI studies of the brain's response to taste, aroma and oral somatosensation, and how fat is sensed and mapped in the brain in relation to the pleasantness of food, and appetite control is given. The influence of phenotype on individual variability in cortical responses is addressed, and an overview of fMRI studies investigating hormonal influences (e.g. peptide YY, cholecystokinin and ghrelin) on appetite-related brain processes provided. Finally, recent developments in MR technology at ultra-high field (7 T) are introduced, highlighting the advances this can provide for fMRI studies to investigate the neural underpinnings in nutrition research. In conclusion, neuroimaging methods provide valuable insight into the mechanisms of flavour perception and appetite behaviour.

Keywords: ACC anterior cingulate cortex; Appetite; BOLD; BOLD blood oxygenation level-dependent; CBF cerebral blood flow; CCK cholecystokinin; Food; Homeostatic; Hypothalamus; Neuroimaging; OFC orbitofrontal cortex; Obesity; PROP 6-n-propylthiouracil; PYY peptide YY; Reward; Satiety; UHF ultra-high field; fMRI functional MRI.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Appetite Regulation*
  • Biomedical Research / trends
  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation*
  • Congresses as Topic
  • Functional Neuroimaging
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamus / blood supply
  • Hypothalamus / physiology
  • Hypothalamus / physiopathology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Nutritional Sciences / methods
  • Nutritional Sciences / trends
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Satiety Response*
  • Taste Perception*
  • Technology Transfer*