Stanford Psychiatry and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill awarded grant to study relation of differences in fMRI-assessed satiation signaling to obesity risk and future weight gain

August 28, 2023

Eric Stice, PhD

We are pleased to announce that Stanford Psychiatry’s Eric Stice, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, has received a grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases to support his research on risk of obesity. This work aims to improve the understanding of risk processes for obesity and lead to the design of more effective prevention programs and treatments.

Obesity affects 2.8 billion people worldwide and is the second leading cause of premature mortality. Unfortunately, current treatments do not produce lasting weight loss, potentially because of an incomplete understanding of the risk processes that promote obesity. After eating to fullness, individuals with obesity versus without obesity show weaker satiation signaling, as indexed by elevated responsivity of reward valuation and gustatory regions in response to food cues and food tastes and stronger connectivity between these brain regions. Behaviorally, obesity is associated with consumption of excess calories ad libitum when sated, along with reduced perceived fullness and less perception of homeostatic signals during satiation. Although research has established that obesity is correlated with weaker satiation signaling, no study has determined whether weaker satiation signaling increases the risk for future overeating and weight gain or is a consequence of overeating.

Dr. Stice is joined by co-principal investigator Dr. Kyle Burger at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Together, they will examine whether healthy weight youth at high-risk for obesity show weaker neural satiation signaling than low-risk youth, whether youth who show weaker neural satiation signaling will show elevated future weight gain, and the impact of percent body fat gain at 3-year follow-up on the possible reduction in satiation signaling.

“The findings from this project will help to determine whether weaker satiation signaling is an initial vulnerability factor for weight gain, is the result of habitual overeating, or is dynamically related in a feed-forward fashion,” say Drs. Stice and Burger. “An improved understanding of risk processes for obesity should guide the design of more effective prevention programs and treatments.”

Dr. Stice’s work focuses on identifying risk factors that predict onset of eating disorders, obesity, substance abuse, and depression to advance knowledge regarding etiologic processes, including the use of functional neural imaging. He also designs, evaluates, and disseminates prevention and treatment interventions for eating disorders, obesity, and depression. Recent publications related to this work include “Enhancing Efficacy of a Brief Obesity and Eating Disorder Prevention Program: Long-Term Results from an Experimental Therapeutics Trial” published in the journal Nutrients, and “Elevated reward, emotion, and memory region response to thin models predicts eating disorder symptom persistence: A prospective functional magnetic resonance imaging study” published in the Journal of Psychopathology and Clinical Science.

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