An important function of eating is ingesting energy. Our objectives were to assess whether oral exposure to caloric and non-caloric stimuli elicits discriminable responses in the brain and to determine in how far these responses are modulated by hunger state and sweetness. Thirty women tasted three stimuli in two motivational states (hunger and satiety) while their brain responses were measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging in a randomized crossover design. Stimuli were solutions of sucralose (sweet, no energy), maltodextrin (non-sweet, energy) and sucralose+maltodextrin (sweet, energy). We found no main effect of energy content and no interaction between energy content and sweetness. However, there was an interaction between hunger state and energy content in the median cingulate (bilaterally), ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, anterior insula and thalamus. This indicates that the anterior insula and thalamus, areas in which hunger state and taste of a stimulus are integrated, also integrate hunger state with caloric content of a taste stimulus. Furthermore, in the median cingulate and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, tasting energy resulted in more activation during satiety compared to hunger. This finding indicates that these areas, which are known to be involved in processes that require approach and avoidance, are also involved in guiding ingestive behavior. In conclusion, our results suggest that energy sensing is a hunger state dependent process, in which the median cingulate, ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, anterior insula and thalamus play a central role by integrating hunger state with stimulus relevance.
Keywords: Carbohydrate; Energy sensing; Median cingulate; Oral cavity; Sweetness; fMRI.
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