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Patterns of brain structural connectivity differentiate normal weight from overweight subjects.

  • Author(s): Gupta, Arpana;
  • Mayer, Emeran A;
  • Sanmiguel, Claudia P;
  • Van Horn, John D;
  • Woodworth, Davis;
  • Ellingson, Benjamin M;
  • Fling, Connor;
  • Love, Aubrey;
  • Tillisch, Kirsten;
  • Labus, Jennifer S
  • et al.


Alterations in the hedonic component of ingestive behaviors have been implicated as a possible risk factor in the pathophysiology of overweight and obese individuals. Neuroimaging evidence from individuals with increasing body mass index suggests structural, functional, and neurochemical alterations in the extended reward network and associated networks.


To apply a multivariate pattern analysis to distinguish normal weight and overweight subjects based on gray and white-matter measurements.


Structural images (N = 120, overweight N = 63) and diffusion tensor images (DTI) (N = 60, overweight N = 30) were obtained from healthy control subjects. For the total sample the mean age for the overweight group (females = 32, males = 31) was 28.77 years (SD = 9.76) and for the normal weight group (females = 32, males = 25) was 27.13 years (SD = 9.62). Regional segmentation and parcellation of the brain images was performed using Freesurfer. Deterministic tractography was performed to measure the normalized fiber density between regions. A multivariate pattern analysis approach was used to examine whether brain measures can distinguish overweight from normal weight individuals.


1. White-matter classification: The classification algorithm, based on 2 signatures with 17 regional connections, achieved 97% accuracy in discriminating overweight individuals from normal weight individuals. For both brain signatures, greater connectivity as indexed by increased fiber density was observed in overweight compared to normal weight between the reward network regions and regions of the executive control, emotional arousal, and somatosensory networks. In contrast, the opposite pattern (decreased fiber density) was found between ventromedial prefrontal cortex and the anterior insula, and between thalamus and executive control network regions. 2. Gray-matter classification: The classification algorithm, based on 2 signatures with 42 morphological features, achieved 69% accuracy in discriminating overweight from normal weight. In both brain signatures regions of the reward, salience, executive control and emotional arousal networks were associated with lower morphological values in overweight individuals compared to normal weight individuals, while the opposite pattern was seen for regions of the somatosensory network.


1. An increased BMI (i.e., overweight subjects) is associated with distinct changes in gray-matter and fiber density of the brain. 2. Classification algorithms based on white-matter connectivity involving regions of the reward and associated networks can identify specific targets for mechanistic studies and future drug development aimed at abnormal ingestive behavior and in overweight/obesity.

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