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Keywords:

  • human;
  • chocolate;
  • fMRI;
  • affect;
  • craving;
  • orbitofrontal cortex;
  • ventral striatum;
  • pregenual cingulate cortex

Abstract

To examine the neural circuitry involved in food craving, in making food particularly appetitive and thus in driving wanting and eating, we used fMRI to measure the response to the flavour of chocolate, the sight of chocolate and their combination in cravers vs. non-cravers. Statistical parametric mapping (SPM) analyses showed that the sight of chocolate produced more activation in chocolate cravers than non-cravers in the medial orbitofrontal cortex and ventral striatum. For cravers vs. non-cravers, a combination of a picture of chocolate with chocolate in the mouth produced a greater effect than the sum of the components (i.e. supralinearity) in the medial orbitofrontal cortex and pregenual cingulate cortex. Furthermore, the pleasantness ratings of the chocolate and chocolate-related stimuli had higher positive correlations with the fMRI blood oxygenation level-dependent signals in the pregenual cingulate cortex and medial orbitofrontal cortex in the cravers than in the non-cravers. To our knowledge, this is the first study to show that there are differences between cravers and non-cravers in their responses to the sensory components of a craved food in the orbitofrontal cortex, ventral striatum and pregenual cingulate cortex, and that in some of these regions the differences are related to the subjective pleasantness of the craved foods. Understanding individual differences in brain responses to very pleasant foods helps in the understanding of the mechanisms that drive the liking for specific foods and thus intake of those foods.