People with a high BMI are more likely to have disrupted connections between memory and appetite regulating brain circuits compared to those with a lower weight, evidence indicates.

Latest research conducted at the University of Pennsylvania has found that people who are obese are more at risk of having weaker connections between the lateral hypothalamus (LH) and dorsolateral hippocampus (dlHPC).

Having impaired connections can affect how well they can control their emotional responses when expecting a treat or a rewarding meal, according to the scientists.

Primary author Dr Casey Halpern said: “These findings underscore that some individual’s brains can be fundamentally different in regions that increase the risk for obesity.

“Conditions like disordered eating and obesity are a lot more complicated than simply managing self-control and eating healthier.”

Dr Halpern added: “What these individuals need is not more willpower, but the therapeutic equivalent of an electrician that can make right these connections inside their brain.”

The LH is located in the section of the brain that ensure the body is in a stable state, while the dlHPC is in the part of the brain that processes memory.

Prior studies have discovered that people with obesity and related disordered eating are at risk of having a lower function in the human hippocampus.

During the investigation, the scientists analysed the brain activity of people who were already being monitored electrically in the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit.

They reviewed the brains of the participants before and after they drank a chocolate milkshake. The findings show that the dlHPC and the LH were activated before the adults were given the chocolate milkshake.

In addition, the results have revealed that the participant’s hypothalamus-hippocampus circuit was more disturbed if they had a high BMI.

Dr Halpern noted: “The hippocampus has never been targeted to treat obesity, or the disordered eating that can sometimes cause obesity.

“We hope to be able to use this research to both identify which individuals who are likely to develop obesity later in life, and to develop novel therapies – both invasive and not – to help improve function of this critical circuit that seems to go awry in people who are obese.”

Read the full study in the journal Nature.

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