Food image-induced brain activation is not diminished by insulin infusion

R. Belfort-De Aguiar, D. Seo, S. Naik, J. Hwang, C. Lacadie, C. Schmidt, R. T. Constable, R. Sinha, R. Sherwin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Background/Objectives: The obesity epidemic appears to be driven in large part by our modern environment inundated by food cues, which may influence our desire to eat. Although insulin decreases food intake in both animals and humans, the effect of insulin on motivation for food in the presence of food cues is not known. Therefore, the aim of this study was to evaluate the effect of an intravenous insulin infusion on the brain response to visual food cues, hunger and food craving in non-obese human subjects.Subjects/Methods: Thirty-four right-handed healthy non-obese subjects (19F/15M, age: 29±8 years.; BMI: 23.1±2.1 kg m -2) were divided in two groups matched by age and BMI; the insulin group (18 subjects) underwent a hyperinsulinemic-euglycemic-clamp, and the control group (16 subjects) received an intravenous saline infusion, while viewing high and low-calorie food and non-food pictures during a functional MRI scan. Motivation for food was determined via analog scales for hunger, wanting and liking ratings. Results: Food images induced brain responses in the hypothalamus, striatum, amygdala, insula, ventromedial prefrontal cortex (PFC), dorsolateral PFC and occipital lobe (whole brain correction, P<0.05). Wanting (P<0.001) and liking (P<0.001) ratings were significantly higher for the food than the non-food images, but not different between insulin and saline infusion groups. Hunger ratings increased throughout the MRI scan and correlated with preference for high-calorie food pictures (r=0.70; P<0.001). However, neither brain activity nor food cravings were affected by hyperinsulinemia or hormonal status (leptin and ghrelin levels) (P=NS). Conclusions: Our data demonstrate that visual food cues induce a strong response in motivation/reward and cognitive-executive control brain regions in non-obese subjects, but that these responses are not diminished by hyperinsulinemia per se. These findings suggest that our modern food cue saturated environment may be sufficient to overpower homeostatic hormonal signals, and thus contribute to the current obesity epidemic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1679-1686
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Obesity
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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