Genes May Be To Blame For Our Love of High-Calorie Foods

First Posted: Nov 05, 2015 06:03 PM EST

Two genetic variants may alter the brain's response to high-calorie foods, according to a recent study.

Researchers found that the gene variants FTO and DRD2 influenced activity in the brain's reward system when looking at pictures of high-calorie foods.

During the study, researchers examined how the variants altered brain response in participants who were asked to examine pictures of either high-calorie or low-calorie foods and rate how appealing they found the pictures while their brains were scanned via functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Participants with a variant near the FTO gene, which predisposes individuals to obesity, had greater activation when looking at high-calorie foods in the orbitofrontal cortex.

"Interestingly, for the first time we also found that the activation in a part of the brain called the striatum was increased when those with the variant in FTO looked at high-calorie foods, but this depended on which variant of the other gene DRD2 they possessed. The DRD2 variant alters how the dopamine system works in the brain," said lead study author Tony Goldstone, MD, PhD, of Consultant Endocrinologist, in a news release.

These results suggest that part of the reason people with the FTO variant are more likely to have obesity may be because dopamine signals in their brain cause them to feel more reward and craving when presented with high-calorie foods.

"It is possible that people with these particular genetic variants may respond differently to certain treatments for obesity," said Dr. Goldstone.

Possible treatments could include those that change how the brain processes high-calorie foods and how much people like high-calorie foods, and especially those that affect dopamine systems in the brain. This might include hormones from the gut that can act on dopamine brain cells, drugs that alter the way in which dopamine works in the brain, and even specific types of gut surgery for obesity.

The study is published in The Obesity Society Annual Meeting at ObesityWeek SM 2015 in Los Angeles, Calif.

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