Stress-level glucocorticoids increase fasting hunger and decrease cerebral blood flow in regions regulating eating

Jason Bini, Lisa Parikh, Cheryl Lacadie, Janice J. Hwang, Saloni Shah, Samuel B. Rosenberg, Dongju Seo, Katherine Lam, Muhammad Hamza, Renata Belfort De Aguiar, Todd Constable, Robert S. Sherwin, Rajita Sinha, Ania M. Jastreboff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Context: The neural regulation of appetite and energy homeostasis significantly overlaps with the neurobiology of stress. Frequent exposure to repeated acute stressors may cause increased allostatic load and subsequent dysregulation of the cortico-limbic striatal system leading to inefficient integration of postprandial homeostatic and hedonic signals. It is therefore important to understand the neural mechanisms by which stress generates alterations in appetite that may drive weight gain. Objective: To determine glucocorticoid effects on metabolic, neural and behavioral factors that may underlie the association between glucocorticoids, appetite and obesity risk. Methods: A randomized double-blind cross-over design of overnight infusion of hydrocortisone or saline followed by a fasting morning perfusion magnetic resonance imaging to assess regional cerebral blood flow (CBF) was completed. Visual Analog Scale (VAS) hunger, cortisol and metabolic hormones were also measured. Results: Hydrocortisone relative to saline significantly decreased whole brain voxel based CBF responses in the hypothalamus and related cortico-striatal-limbic regions. Hydrocortisone significantly increased hunger VAS pre-scan, insulin, glucose and leptin, but not other metabolic hormones versus saline CBF groups. Hydrocortisone related increases in hunger were predicted by less reduction of CBF (hydrocortisone minus saline) in the medial OFC, medial brainstem and thalamus, left primary sensory cortex and right superior and medial temporal gyrus. Hunger ratings were also positively associated with plasma insulin on hydrocortisone but not saline day. Conclusions: Increased glucocorticoids at levels akin to those experienced during psychological stress, result in increased fasting hunger and decreased regional cerebral blood flow in a distinct brain network of prefrontal, emotional, reward, motivation, sensory and homeostatic regions that underlie control of food intake.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103202
JournalNeuroImage: Clinical
StatePublished - Jan 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Cortisol
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Hunger
  • Stress
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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