AUTHORS: Toepel U, Knebel JF, Hudry J, le Coutre J, Murray MM

PLOS One, 7(5): e36778, May 2012


Hemodynamic imaging results have associated both gender and body weight to variation in brain responses to food-related information. However, the spatio-temporal brain dynamics of gender-related and weight-wise modulations in food discrimination still remain to be elucidated. We analyzed visual evoked potentials (VEPs) while normal-weighted men (n = 12) and women (n = 12) categorized photographs of energy-dense foods and non-food kitchen utensils. VEP analyses showed that food categorization is influenced by gender as early as 170 ms after image onset. Moreover, the female VEP pattern to food categorization co-varied with participants’ body weight. Estimations of the neural generator activity over the time interval of VEP modulations (i.e. by means of a distributed linear inverse solution [LAURA]) revealed alterations in prefrontal and temporo-parietal source activity as a function of image category and participants’ gender. However, only neural source activity for female responses during food viewing was negatively correlated with body-mass index (BMI) over the respective time interval. Women showed decreased neural source activity particularly in ventral prefrontal brain regions when viewing food, but not non-food objects, while no such associations were apparent in male responses to food and non-food viewing. Our study thus indicates that gender influences are already apparent during initial stages of food-related object categorization, with small variations in body weight modulating electrophysiological responses especially in women and in brain areas implicated in food reward valuation and intake control. These findings extend recent reports on prefrontal reward and control circuit responsiveness to food cues and the potential role of this reactivity pattern in the susceptibility to weight gain.

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