Dorsal striatum and its limbic connectivity mediate abnormal anticipatory reward processing in obesity

Lauri Nummenmaa, Jussi Hirvonen, Jarna C. Hannukainen, Heidi Immonen, Markus M. Lindroos, Pauliina Salminen, P Nuuttila

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

119 Citations (Scopus)
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Obesity is characterized by an imbalance in the brain circuits promoting reward seeking and those governing cognitive control. Here we show that the dorsal caudate nucleus and its connections with amygdala, insula and prefrontal cortex contribute to abnormal reward processing in obesity. We measured regional brain glucose uptake in morbidly obese (n = 19) and normal weighted (n = 16) subjects with 2-[18F]fluoro-2-deoxyglucose ([18F]FDG) positron emission tomography (PET) during euglycemic hyperinsulinemia and with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while anticipatory food reward was induced by repeated presentations of appetizing and bland food pictures. First, we found that glucose uptake rate in the dorsal caudate nucleus was higher in obese than in normal-weight subjects. Second, obese subjects showed increased hemodynamic responses in the caudate nucleus while viewing appetizing versus bland foods in fMRI. The caudate also showed elevated task-related functional connectivity with amygdala and insula in the obese versus normal-weight subjects. Finally, obese subjects had smaller responses to appetizing versus bland foods in the dorsolateral and orbitofrontal cortices than did normal-weight subjects, and failure to activate the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex was correlated with high glucose metabolism in the dorsal caudate nucleus. These findings suggest that enhanced sensitivity to external food cues in obesity may involve abnormal stimulus-response learning and incentive motivation subserved by the dorsal caudate nucleus, which in turn may be due to abnormally high input from the amygdala and insula and dysfunctional inhibitory control by the frontal cortical regions. These functional changes in the responsiveness and interconnectivity of the reward circuit could be a critical mechanism to explain overeating in obesity.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere31089
Pages (from-to)1-10
JournalPloS one
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2012
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • activation
  • addiction
  • appetitive motivatio
  • cerebral-blood-flow
  • high-calorie
  • human brain
  • individual-diffrences
  • intravenous glucos
  • nucleus-accumbens
  • visual food stimuli

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