Reassessing relationships between appetite and adiposity in people at risk of obesity: a twin study using fMRI

Background: Neuroimaging studies suggest that appetitive drive is enhanced in obesity.

Objective: To test if appetitive drive varies in direct proportion to the level of body adiposity after accounting for genetic factors that contribute to both brain response and obesity risk.

Subjects/Methods: Participants were adult monozygotic (n=54) and dizygotic (n=30) twins with at least one member of the pair with obesity. Body composition was assessed by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. Hormonal and appetite measures were obtained in response to a standardized meal that provided 20% of estimated daily caloric needs and to an ad libitum buffet meal. Pre- and post-meal functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) assessed brain response to visual food cues in a set of a priori appetite-regulating regions. Exploratory voxelwise analyses outside a priori regions were performed with correction for multiple comparisons.

Results: In a group of 84 adults, the majority with obesity (75%), body fat mass was not associated with hormonal responses to a meal (glucose, insulin, glucagon-like peptide-1 and ghrelin, all P>0.40), subjective feelings of hunger (β=−0.01mm [95% CI −0.35, 0.34] P=0.97) and fullness (β=0.15mm [−0.15, 0.44] P=0.33), or buffet meal intake in relation to estimated daily caloric needs (β=0.28% [−0.05, 0.60] P=0.10). Body fat mass was also not associated with brain response to high-calorie food cues in appetite-regulating regions (Pre-meal β=−0.12 [−0.32, 0.09] P=0.26; Post-meal β=0.18 [−0.02, 0.37] P=0.09; Change by a meal β=0.29 [−0.02, 0.61] P=0.07). Conversely, lower fat mass was associated with being weight reduced (β=−0.05% [−0.07, −0.03] P<0.001) and greater pre-meal activation to high-calorie food cues in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (Z=3.63 P=0.017).

Conclusions: In a large study of adult twins, the majority with overweight or obesity, the level of adiposity was not associated with excess appetitive drive as assessed by behavioral, hormonal, or fMRI measures.

Sewaybricker LE, Melhorn SJ, Rosenbaum JL, Askren MK, Tyagi V, Webb MF, De Leon MRB, Grabowski TJ, Schur EA. Reassessing relationships between appetite and adiposity in people at risk of obesity: A twin study using fMRI. Physiol Behav. 2021 Oct 1;239:113504. PMC8440478.