A meta-analysis of the relationship between brain dopamine receptors and obesity: a matter of changes in behavior rather than food addiction?

Int J Obes (Lond). 2016 Mar;40 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):S12-21. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2016.9.


Addiction to a wide range of substances of abuse has been suggested to reflect a 'Reward Deficiency Syndrome'. That is, drugs are said to stimulate the reward mechanisms so intensely that, to compensate, the population of dopamine D2 receptors (DD2R) declines. The result is that an increased intake is necessary to experience the same degree of reward. Without an additional intake, cravings and withdrawal symptoms result. A suggestion is that food addiction, in a similar manner to drugs of abuse, decrease DD2R. The role of DD2R in obesity was therefore examined by examining the association between body mass index (BMI) and the Taq1A polymorphism, as the A1 allele is associated with a 30-40% lower number of DD2R, and is a risk factor for drug addiction. If a lower density of DD2R is indicative of physical addiction, it was argued that if food addiction occurs, those with the A1 allele should have a higher BMI. A systematic review found 33 studies that compared the BMI of those who did and did not have the A1 allele. A meta-analysis of the studies compared those with (A1/A1 and A1/A2) or without (A2/A2) the A1 allele; no difference in BMI was found (standardized mean difference 0.004 (s.e. 0.021), variance 0.000, Z=0.196, P<0.845). It was concluded that there was no support for a reward deficiency theory of food addiction. In contrast, there are several reports that those with the A1 allele are less able to benefit from an intervention that aimed to reduce weight, possibly a reflection of increased impulsivity.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavior, Addictive / genetics*
  • Behavior, Addictive / psychology
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Craving
  • Electric Impedance
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Food Preferences / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Obesity / genetics*
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2 / metabolism*
  • Reward


  • DRD2 protein, human
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2