Brain reward responses to food stimuli among female monozygotic twins discordant for BMI

Stieneke Doornweerd, Eco J De Geus, Frederik Barkhof, Liselotte van Bloemendaal, Dorret I Boomsma, J. van Dongen, Madeleine L Drent, Gonneke Willemsen, Dick J Veltman, Richard G IJzerman

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Obese individuals are characterized by altered brain reward responses to food. Despite the latest discovery of obesity-associated genes, the contribution of environmental and genetic factors to brain reward responsiveness to food remains largely unclear. Sixteen female monozygotic twin pairs with a mean BMI discordance of 3.96 ± 2.1 kg/m(2) were selected from the Netherlands Twin Register to undergo functional MRI scanning while watching high- and low-calorie food and non-food pictures and during the anticipation and receipt of chocolate milk. In addition, appetite ratings, eating behavior and food intake were assessed using visual analog scales, validated questionnaires and an ad libitum lunch. In the overall group, visual and taste stimuli elicited significant activation in regions of interest (ROIs) implicated in reward, i.e. amygdala, insula, striatum and orbitofrontal cortex. However, when comparing leaner and heavier co-twins no statistically significant differences in ROI-activations were observed after family wise error correction. Heavier versus leaner co-twins reported higher feelings of hunger (P = 0.02), cravings for sweet food (P = 0.04), body dissatisfaction (P < 0.05) and a trend towards more emotional eating (P = 0.1), whereas caloric intake was not significantly different between groups (P = 0.3). Our results suggest that inherited rather than environmental factors are largely responsible for the obesity-related altered brain responsiveness to food. Future studies should elucidate the genetic variants underlying the susceptibility to reward dysfunction and obesity.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)718-727
Number of pages10
JournalBrain Imaging and Behavior
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jun 2018


  • Journal Article

Cohort Studies

  • Netherlands Twin Register (NTR)


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