Brain Imaging May Prevent Obesity and Linked Psychological Behaviors

Sooraj Shah ’24

Figure 1: Low aromatase levels in the brain lead to higher BMI levels and lower self control.

Obesity rates in the United States, approaching almost 70% for men and 62% for women, are concerning, especially since obesity is associated with several other conditions such as heart attacks and diabetes. While the classic solution is exercise and proper diet maintenance, the ability to predict and prevent obesity has become a topic of research. A study led by Dr. Anat Biegon, professor of radiology at Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, focused on the use of brain imaging to detect enzymes called aromatases, which may predict the onset of obesity. In addition, these enzymes can also be linked to the personalities of individuals, which may shed light on the neurological factors behind obesity. 

The amygdala, a region which has been previously found to contain high levels of aromatase, synthesizes estrogen from androgens. The amygdala has been connected to the control of decision making when it comes to eating. The study observed 16 healthy, 15 overweight, and 12 obese men and women. Using positron emission tomography (PET), a form of brain imaging, researchers observed the levels of aromatase present in the brain and were able to find associations between the level of aromatase and the relative body mass index (BMI) of these individuals. The participants were then asked to complete a personality test called the Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire (MPQ) to examine possible correlations of personality with aromatase levels in the brain. 

The study found that low levels of aromatase correlated with higher BMIs and less self control, regardless of sex. Lower levels of aromatase lead to lower levels of estrogen production, and thus may decrease regulation of eating-related control. This would then increase the relative BMI of these individuals. This suggests that aromatase could be used as a tracker for the development and possible prevention of obesity. Dr. Biegon believes PET scanning can be applied to other areas of the brain to reveal stark differences in levels of aromatase in healthy and obese populations. Tracking this enzyme in various parts of the brain would be the basis for further research. 

Works Cited

  1. A. Biegon, et al., Relationship of estrogen synthesis capacity in the brain with obesity and self-control in men and women. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 37, 137 (2020). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2006117117
  1. Image retrieved from: https://cdn.pixabay.com/photo/2015/09/24/07/00/brain-954821_960_720.jpg

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