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1 Credit Quiz JAMA Psychiatry November 5, 2014

Oleoylethanolamide and Human Neural Responses to Food Stimuli in Obesity

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Importance  Obesity has emerged as a leading health threat but its biological basis remains insufficiently known, hampering the search for novel treatments. Here, we study oleoylethanolamide, a naturally occurring lipid that has been clearly implicated in weight regulation in animals. However, its role for weight regulation and obesity in humans is still unclear.

Objective  To investigate associations between plasma oleoylethanolamide levels and body mass index (BMI, calculated as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared) and functional magnetic resonance imaging response to food stimuli in obese patients and matched control participants.

Design, Setting, and Participants  Case-control study of 21 obese patients and 24 matched control participants. Obesity was defined as having a BMI of at least 30. The mean age of participants was 40.8 years and BMIs ranged from 18.2 to 47.5.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Interactions between plasma oleoylethanolamide levels and obesity on BMI and functional magnetic resonance imaging response to food stimuli.

Results  Associations between oleoylethanolamide and BMI differed significantly depending on whether individuals were obese or not (P = .02). In obese individuals, oleoylethanolamide showed a trend toward a positive correlation with BMI (P = .06, ρ = 0.42), while this relationship was inverse for nonobese control participants (P = .07, ρ = −0.34). Similarly, we found significant interactions between oleoylethanolamide levels and obesity on food-related brain activation in cortical areas associated with reward processing and interoceptive signaling (P = .009). Specifically, nonobese individuals with higher oleoylethanolamide levels had higher insular brain activity (P < .001, ρ = 0.70); again, the relationship trended to be inverse for obese patients (P = .11, ρ = −0.36). These effects were not associated with plasma levels of leptin and anandamide, suggesting an independent role of oleoylethanolamide in hunger-associated interoceptive signaling. Analysis of food craving during the functional magnetic resonance imaging task suggested that the identified brain areas may be involved in suppressing food-liking reactions in nonobese individuals.

Conclusions and Relevance  This study suggests that oleoylethanolamide-mediated signaling plays an important role for hedonic regulation of food craving and obesity in humans and thus may be a valuable target for developing novel antiobesity drugs.

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