The dynamic nature of food reward processing in the brain

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Abstract

Purpose of review

The dominant view in the literature is that increased neural reactivity to high-caloric palatable foods in the mesocorticolimbic system is a stable-specific characteristic of obese people. In this review, we argue that this viewpoint may not be justified, and we propose that the neural response to food stimuli is dynamic, and in synchrony with the current motivational and cognitive state of an individual. We will further motivate why a clear mental task in the scanner is a necessity for drawing conclusions from neural activity, and why multivariate approaches to functional MRI (fMRI) data-analysis may carry the field forward.

Recent findings

From the reviewed literature we draw the conclusions that: neural food-cue reactivity depends strongly on cognitive factors such as the use of cognitive regulation strategies, task demands, and focus of attention; neural activity in the mesocorticolimbic system is not proportionate to the hedonic value of presented food stimuli; and multivariate approaches to fMRI data-analysis have shown that hedonic value can be decoded from multivoxel patterns of neural activity.

Summary

Future research should take the dynamic nature of food-reward processing into account and take advantage from state-of-the-art multivariate approaches to fMRI data-analysis.

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