Neural structural abnormalities behind altered brain activation in obesity: Evidence from meta-analyses of brain activation and morphometric data

Neuroimage Clin. 2022:36:103179. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2022.103179. Epub 2022 Sep 5.


Obesity represents a risk factor for disability with a major bearing on life expectancy. Neuroimaging techniques are contributing to clarify its neurobiological underpinnings. Here, we explored whether structural brain abnormalities might accompany altered brain activations in obesity. We combined and compared data from brain activation studies for food stimuli and the data reported in structural voxel-based morphometry studies. We found that obese individuals have reduced grey matter density and functional activations in the thalamus and midbrain. A functional connectivity analysis based on these two clusters and its quantitative decoding showed that these regions are part of the reward system functional brain network. Moreover, we found specific grey matter hypo-densities in prefrontal cortex for the obese subjects, regions involved in controlled behaviour. These results support theories of obesity that point to reduced bottom-up reward processes (i.e., the Reward Deficit Theory), but also top-down theories postulating a deficit in cognitive control (i.e., the Inhibitory Control Deficit Theory). The same results also warrant a more systematic exploration of obesity whereby the reward of food and the intentional control over consummatory behaviour is manipulated.

Keywords: Meta-analysis; Obesity; Reward system; VBM; fMRI.

MeSH terms

  • Brain Mapping
  • Brain* / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Neuroimaging
  • Obesity / diagnostic imaging
  • Reward