What Twin Studies Tell Us About Brain Responses to Food Cues

Purpose of review: Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) using visual food cues provides insight into brain regulation of appetite in humans. This review sought evidence for genetic determinants of these responses.

Recent findings: Echoing behavioral studies of food cue responsiveness, twin study approaches detect significant inherited influences on brain response to food cues. Both polygenic (whole genome) factors and polymorphisms in single genes appear to impact appetite regulation, particularly in brain regions related to satiety perception. Furthermore, genetic confounding might underlie findings linking obesity to stereotypical response patterns on fMRI, i.e., associations with obesity may actually reflect underlying inherited susceptibilities rather than acquired levels of adiposity. Insights from twin studies show that genes powerfully influence brain regulation of appetite, emphasizing the role of inherited susceptibility factors in obesity risk. Future research to delineate mechanisms of inherited obesity risk could lead to novel or more targeted interventional approaches.

Schur E, Carnell S. What Twin Studies Tell Us About Brain Responses to Food Cues. Curr Obes Rep. 2017 Dec;6(4):371-379. PMC5716899.