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More clues about obesity revealed by brain-imaging study

UPTON, NY -- The idea that obese people eat too much because they find food more palatable than lean people do has gained support from a new brain-imaging study at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory. The study reveals that the parts of the brain responsible for sensation in the mouth, lips, and tongue are more active in obese people than in normal-weight control subjects.

"This enhanced activity in brain regions involved with sensory processing of food could make obese people more sensitive to the rewarding properties of food, and could be one of the reasons they overeat," said Brookhaven physician Gene-Jack Wang, lead author of the study.

Wang acknowledges that obesity is a complex disease with many contributing factors, including genetics, abnormal eating behavior, lack of exercise, and cultural influences, as well as cerebral mechanisms, which are not yet fully understood. In a recent study, he and his team found that obese people have fewer brain receptors for dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps produce feelings of satisfaction and pleasure, implying that obese people may eat to stimulate their underserved reward circuits, just as addicts do by taking drugs.

In that study, overall brain metabolism did not differ between obese subjects and normal-weight controls. But because the sensory appeal of food can be so important in triggering the urge to eat, Wang and his team wondered whether obese people might have enhanced metabolic activity in specific brain regions, particularly those involved in the sensory processing of food.

To measure regional brain metabolism, the scientists used positron emission tomography (PET) after injecting volunteers (10 severely obese and 20 normal controls) with a radioactively labeled form of glucose, the brain's metabolic fuel. Known as FDG, this radiotracer (invented at Brookhaven) acts like glucose in the brain, concentrating in regions where metabolic activity is high
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Contact: Karen McNulty Walsh
kmcnulty@bnl.gov
631-344-8350
DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory
20-Jun-2002


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