Obesity is associated with reduced orbitofrontal cortex volume: A coordinate-based meta-analysis

Neuroimage Clin. 2020:28:102420. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2020.102420. Epub 2020 Sep 9.


Neural models of obesity vary in their focus upon prefrontal and striatal differences. Animal and human studies suggest that differential functioning of the orbitofrontal cortex is associated with obesity. However, meta-analyses of functional neuroimaging studies have not found a clear relationship between the orbitofrontal cortex and obesity. Meta-analyses of structural imaging studies of obesity have shown mixed findings with regards to an association with reduced orbitofrontal cortex gray matter volume. To clarify these findings, we conducted a meta-analysis of 25 voxel-based morphometry studies, and found that greater body mass index is associated with decreased gray matter volume in the right orbitofrontal cortex (Brodmanns' areas 10 and 11), where family-wise corrected p < .05, N = 7,612. Use of the right orbitofrontal cortex as a seed in a Neurosynth Network Coactivation analysis showed that this region is associated with activity in the left frontal medial cortex, left temporal lobe, right precuneus cortex, posterior division of the left middle temporal gyrus, and right frontal pole. When Neurosynth Network Coactivation results were submitted as regions of interest in the Human Connectome Project data, we found that greater body mass index was associated with greater activity in left frontal medial cortex response to the Gambling Task, where p < .05, although this did not survive Bonferroni-correction. Our findings highlight the importance of the orbitofrontal cortex structure and functioning in neural models of obesity. Exploratory analyses suggest more studies are needed that examine the functional significance of reduced orbitofrontal cortex gray matter volume in obesity, and the effect of age and weight changes on this relationship using longitudinal designs.

Keywords: BMI; Body mass index; Gray matter volume; Obesity; Overweight; VBM.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Frontal Lobe
  • Gray Matter* / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Obesity / diagnostic imaging
  • Prefrontal Cortex / diagnostic imaging