Survival under selective pressure is driven by the ability of our brain to use sensory information to our advantage to control physiological needs. To that end, neural circuits receive and integrate external environmental cues and internal metabolic signals to form learned sensory associations, consequently motivating and adapting our behaviour. The dopaminergic midbrain plays a crucial role in learning adaptive behaviour and is particularly sensitive to peripheral metabolic signals, including intestinal peptides, such as glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1). In a single-blinded, randomized, controlled, crossover basic human functional magnetic resonance imaging study relying on a computational model of the adaptive learning process underlying behavioural responses, we show that adaptive learning is reduced when metabolic sensing is impaired in obesity, as indexed by reduced insulin sensitivity (participants: N = 30 with normal insulin sensitivity; N = 24 with impaired insulin sensitivity). Treatment with the GLP-1 receptor agonist liraglutide normalizes impaired learning of sensory associations in men and women with obesity. Collectively, our findings reveal that GLP-1 receptor activation modulates associative learning in people with obesity via its central effects within the mesoaccumbens pathway. These findings provide evidence for how metabolic signals can act as neuromodulators to adapt our behaviour to our body's internal state and how GLP-1 receptor agonists work in clinics.
© 2023. The Author(s).