The effects of energy balance, obesity-proneness and sex on the neuronal response to sweet taste

Behav Brain Res. 2015 Feb 1;278:446-52. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2014.10.024. Epub 2014 Oct 30.


We have previously shown that propensity for weight gain, energy balance state and sex are important determinants of the neuronal response to visual food cues. It is not clear, though, whether these factors also impact the neuronal response to taste. The objective of this study was to examine the neuronal response to sweet taste during energy imbalance in men and women recruited to be obesity-prone (OP) or obesity-resistant (OR). OP (13 men and 12 women) and OR (12 men and 12 women) subjects were studied after 1 day of eucaloric, overfed and underfed conditions in a randomized crossover design. On each test day, fMRI was performed in the respective acute fed state while subjects received in random order 60 trials each of 1M sucrose solution (SU), or artificial saliva (AS) following a visual cue predicting the taste. The neuronal response to SU versus AS expectation was significantly greater in the amygdala, orbitofrontal cortex, putamen and insula in OR versus OP; SU receipt was not different between groups. There were also sex-based differences with men having greater neuronal response to SU versus AS receipt in the caudate than women. The results, however, were not impacted by the state of energy balance. In summary, response to expectation but not receipt of basic sweet taste was different in OR compared to OP, highlighting the importance of learning and conditioning in the propensity to gain weight. Response to sucrose taste receipt was stronger in men than women, raising questions about the effect of sex hormones on brain response to food.

Keywords: Neuroimaging; Overfeeding; Sex; Sucrose; Underfeeding; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Absorptiometry, Photon
  • Adult
  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Energy Metabolism / drug effects
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Obesity / diet therapy
  • Obesity / pathology*
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Sweetening Agents / pharmacology*
  • Taste / physiology*
  • Taste Perception / drug effects


  • Sweetening Agents
  • Oxygen