The neurocognitive mechanisms underlying food cravings and snack food consumption. A combined continuous theta burst stimulation (cTBS) and EEG study

Neuroimage. 2018 Aug 15;177:45-58. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2018.05.013. Epub 2018 May 6.


Regulation of food cravings is thought to be critical for modulating eating behavior, yet we do not fully understand the mechanisms by which cognitive control operates in the eating context. The current study combined rTMS and EEG paradigms to examine the causal role of the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) in modulating visceral and behavioral responses to high calorie foods, and the mediational mechanisms underlying this relation. 28 right-handed female participants received both active and sham continuous theta burst stimulation (cTBS; a rTMS variant used to decrease cortical activity) targeting the left dlPFC in a counterbalanced order. Prior to and following each stimulation session participants completed a flanker and food-cue presentation (high and low calorie food) task. Following cTBS participants had the opportunity to consume both high and low calorie foods during a taste test. Findings revealed a reliable effect of cTBS on food consumption, such that participants selectively ingested significantly more calories from appetitive calorie dense snack foods following active relative to sham cTBS; this effect did not translate to control (low calorie) food consumption. In addition, attenuation of dlPFC activity resulted in the significant increase in N2 amplitude and P3b latency to incongruent flanker trials, and the selective significant increase in the P3a amplitude to and P3a amplitude bias for high calorie food stimuli. Results from the parallel mediation analysis revealed that only the indirect effect of flanker task performance was significant; the indirect effects of stimulation induced changes in the P3 bias for high calorie foods, the urge to consume high calorie foods, and the general liking ratings for high calorie foods were not significant. These findings confirm the causal role of the left dlPFC in the modulation of calorie dense food consumption via inhibitory control capacity.

Keywords: Event-related potentials; Food consumption; Food cravings; P3; Prefrontal cortex; cTBS; rTMS.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Craving / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography / methods*
  • Event-Related Potentials, P300 / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Snacks / physiology*
  • Theta Rhythm / physiology
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / methods*
  • Young Adult