Conflict-related dorsomedial frontal cortex activation during healthy food decisions is associated with increased cravings for high-fat foods
Previous studies suggest obesity is associated with altered function within the insula and dorsomedial frontal cortex (including dorsal anterior cingulate cortex; DMFC/dACC), reflecting abnormal reward processing and reduced sensitivity to feelings of satiety. Given the proposed roles of DMFC/dACC in monitoring response conflict and reward-based decision making, the present study examined DMFC/dACC activation, and functional connectivity between the DMFC/dACC and the anterior insula (AI), during food-related decision-making. Twenty participants recruited from the general population (10 Female) performed a decision task while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging. They were instructed to “choose the healthier option” when simultaneously shown pairs of images of different foods. Significant DMFC/dACC activation was observed during food-related decision-making, and activation levels also positively correlated with self-reported cravings for high-fat foods (r = 0.57, p = 0.009) and self-reported desire to eat the high-fat foods depicted in the images (r = 0.48, p = 0.032). Negative functional connectivity estimates between the right AI and DMFC/dACC were also associated with self-reported control over eating (r = −0.50, p = 0.025). These results suggest that (1) more intense cravings for unhealthy foods are associated with greater response conflict when deciding between healthy and unhealthy food options, and (2) lack of eating-related control may involve a reduced influence of insula-mediated bodily signals on decision-making. This task may offer a neuroimaging-based probe for identifying individuals vulnerable to eating-related disorders and should be replicated in clinical populations.
KeywordsDecision-making Obesity Food Insula Dorsomedial frontal cortex Dorsal anterior cingulate cortex
Compliance with ethical standards
This study was funded by a USAMRAA grant to WDSK (grant number W81XWH-09-1-0730).
Conflict of interest
Ryan Smith declares that he has no conflict of interest. Anna Alkozei declares that she has no conflict of interest. W.D. “Scott” Killgore declares that he has no conflict of interest.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
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