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History of early life adversity is associated with increased food addiction and sex-specific alterations in reward network connectivity in obesity.

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Neuroimaging studies have identified obesity-related differences in the brain's resting state activity. An imbalance between homeostatic and reward aspects of ingestive behaviour may contribute to obesity and food addiction. The interactions between early life adversity (ELA), the reward network and food addiction were investigated to identify obesity and sex-related differences, which may drive obesity and food addiction.


Functional resting state magnetic resonance imaging was acquired in 186 participants (high body mass index [BMI]: ≥25: 53 women and 54 men; normal BMI: 18.50-24.99: 49 women and 30 men). Participants completed questionnaires to assess ELA (Early Traumatic Inventory) and food addiction (Yale Food Addiction Scale). A tripartite network analysis based on graph theory was used to investigate the interaction between ELA, brain connectivity and food addiction. Interactions were determined by computing Spearman rank correlations, thresholded at q < 0.05 corrected for multiple comparisons.


Participants with high BMI demonstrate an association between ELA and food addiction, with reward regions playing a role in this interaction. Among women with high BMI, increased ELA was associated with increased centrality of reward and emotion regulation regions. Men with high BMI showed associations between ELA and food addiction with somatosensory regions playing a role in this interaction.


The findings suggest that ELA may alter brain networks, leading to increased vulnerability for food addiction and obesity later in life. These alterations are sex specific and involve brain regions influenced by dopaminergic or serotonergic signalling.

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