- Brain regulation of appetite
- Effects of sugar on brain reward and energy signaling pathways
- Maternal-fetal Programming
Research OverviewWe have two main areas of interest: 1) Understanding how the brain regulates appetite and eating behavior, and (2) Identifying early life determinants of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Our work in the area of brain appetite regulation has been focused on determining the effects of high-reward foods (like sugar) on brain pathways that regulate appetite and food intake. Our findings to date show differential effects of two simple sugars, glucose and fructose, on brain pathways relevant to eating behavior. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we showed that acute consumption of glucose but not fructose decreased activity in brain appetite and reward pathways and increased satiety in lean adults. These findings suggest that while glucose suppresses brain activity in regions that promote the desire to eat, fructose may promote overeating through its inability to effectively suppress food-seeking behavior (Page et al, JAMA 2013). Our group also recently found that when obese, young adults viewed pictures of high-calorie foods (like a picture of chocolate cake), their brain appetite and reward centers were stimulated, and they reported greater hunger and desire to eat (Luo et al, Obesity 2013). We are now conducting studies to determine brain and appetite responses to dual stimulation by food images and sugar intake.
Our second area of interest is understanding how early life exposures may lead to an increased risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes. Our NIH funded project is aimed at understanding the effects of exposure to maternal gestational diabetes on risks for obesity and diabetes in offspring. To date, we have demonstrated an excess of obesity in children who were exposed to maternal diabetes in utero. Our new studies, supported by the NIH and the American Diabetes Association, are aimed at understanding potential neuroendocrine mechanisms by which these intergenerational effects occur.