Humans with obesity have disordered brain responses to food images during physiological hyperglycemia

Renata Belfort-DeAguiar, Dongju Seo, Cheryl Lacadie, Sarita Naik, Christian Schmidt, Wai Lam, Janice Hwang, Todd Constable, Rajita Sinha, Robert S. Sherwin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Blood glucose levels influence brain regulation of food intake. This study assessed the effect of mild physiological hyperglycemia on brain response to food cues in individuals with obesity (OB) versus normal weight individuals (NW). Brain responses in 10 OB and 10 NW nondiabetic healthy adults [body mass index: 34 (3) vs. 23 (2) kg/m2, means (SD), P < 0.0001] were measured with functional MRI (blood oxygen level-dependent contrast) in combination with a two-step normoglycemic-hyperglycemic clamp. Participants were shown food and nonfood images during normoglycemia (~95 mg/dl) and hyperglycemia (~130 mg/dl). Plasma glucose levels were comparable in both groups during the two-step clamp (P = not significant). Insulin and leptin levels were higher in the OB group compared with NW, whereas ghrelin levels were lower (all P < 0.05). During hyperglycemia, insula activity showed a group-by-glucose level effect. When compared with normoglycemia, hyperglycemia resulted in decreased activity in the hypothalamus and putamen in response to food images (P < 0.001) in the NW group, whereas the OB group exhibited increased activity in insula, putamen, and anterior and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (aPFC/dlPFC; P < 0.001). These data suggest that OB, compared with NW, appears to have disruption of brain responses to food cues during hyperglycemia, with reduced insula response in NW but increased insula response in OB, an area involved in food perception and interoception. In a post hoc analysis, brain activity in obesity appears to be associated with dysregulated motivation (striatum) and inappropriate selfcontrol (aPFC/dlPFC) to food cues during hyperglycemia. Hyperstimulation for food and insensitivity to internal homeostatic signals may favor food consumption to possibly play a role in the pathogenesis of obesity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E522-E529
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Endocrinology and Metabolism
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Brain activity
  • FMRI
  • Food cues
  • Hyperglycemia
  • Obesity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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