Excessive body fat linked to blunted somatosensory cortex response to general reward in adolescents

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Abstract

BACKGROUND AND AIMS:

The brain reward system is key to understanding adolescent obesity in the current obesogenic environment, rich in highly appetising stimuli, to which adolescents are particularly sensitive. We aimed to examine the association between body fat levels and brain reward system responsivity to general (monetary) rewards in male and female adolescents.

METHODS:

Sixty-eight adolescents (34 females; mean age (s.d.) = 16.56 (1.35)) were measured for body fat levels with bioelectric impedance, and underwent a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scan during the Monetary Incentive Delay (MID) task. The MID task reliably elicits brain activations associated with two fundamental aspects of reward processing: anticipation and feedback. We conducted regression analyses to examine the association between body fat and brain reward system responsivity during reward anticipation and feedback, while controlling for sex, age and socioeconomic status. We also analysed the moderating impact of sex on the relationship between fat levels and brain responsivity measures. Brain imaging analyses were corrected for multiple comparisons, with a cluster-defining threshold of P < 0.001, and minimum cluster size of 38 contiguous voxels.

RESULTS:

Higher body fat levels were associated with lower activation of the primary somatosensory cortex (S1) and the supramarginal gyrus during reward feedback after controlling for key sociodemographic variables. Although we did not find significant associations between body fat and brain activations during reward anticipation, S1/supramarginal gyrus activation during feedback was linked to increased negative prediction error, that is, less reward than expected, in illustrative post hoc analyses. Sex did not significantly moderate the association between body fat and brain activation in the MID task.

CONCLUSIONS:

In adolescents, higher adiposity is linked to hypo-responsivity of somatosensory regions during general (monetary) reward feedback. Findings suggest that adolescents with excess weight have blunted activation in somatosensory regions involved in reward feedback learning.

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