PLoS One 2013 16;8(9):e74362. Epub 2013 Sep 16.
Max-Planck-Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig, Germany ; IFB Adiposity Diseases, University of Leipzig, Germany.
Obesity is associated with genetic and environmental factors but the underlying mechanisms remain poorly understood. Recent genome-wide association studies (GWAS) identified obesity- and type 2 diabetes-associated genetic variants located within or near genes that modulate brain activity and development. Among the top hits is rs17782313 near MC4R, encoding for the melanocortin-4-receptor, which is expressed in brain regions that regulate eating. Here, we hypothesized rs17782313-associated changes in human brain regions that regulate eating behavior. Therefore, we examined effects of common variants at rs17782313 near MC4R on brain structure and eating behavior. Only in female homozygous carriers of the risk allele we found significant increases of gray matter volume (GMV) in the right amygdala, a region known to influence eating behavior, and the right hippocampus, a structure crucial for memory formation and learning. Further, we found bilateral increases in medial orbitofrontal cortex, a multimodal brain structure encoding the subjective value of reinforcers, and bilateral prefrontal cortex, a higher order regulation area. There was no association between rs17782313 and brain structure in men. Moreover, among female subjects only, we observed a significant increase of 'disinhibition', and, more specifically, on 'emotional eating' scores of the Three Factor Eating Questionnaire in carriers of the variant rs17782313's risk allele. These findings suggest that rs17782313's effect on eating behavior is mediated by central mechanisms and that these effects are sex-specific.