Oxytocin curbs calorie intake via food-specific increases in the activity of brain areas that process reward and establish cognitive control.
Spetter MS, Feld GB, Thienel M, Preissl H, Hege MA, Hallschmid M.
Sci Rep. 2018 Feb 9;8(1):2736. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-20963-4.
Abstract: The hypothalamic neurohormone oxytocin decreases food intake via largely unexplored mechanisms. We investigated the central nervous mediation of oxytocin’s hypophagic effect in comparison to its impact on the processing of generalized rewards. Fifteen fasted normal-weight, young men received intranasal oxytocin (24 IU) or placebo before functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) measurements of brain activity during exposure to food stimuli and a monetary incentive delay task (MID). Subsequently, ad-libitum breakfast intake was assessed. Oxytocin compared to placebo increased activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, supplementary motor area, anterior cingulate, and ventrolateral prefrontal cortices in response to high- vs. low-calorie food images in the fasted state, and reduced calorie intake by 12%. During anticipation of monetary rewards, oxytocin compared to placebo augmented striatal, orbitofrontal and insular activity without altering MID performance. We conclude that during the anticipation of generalized rewards, oxytocin stimulates dopaminergic reward-processing circuits. In contrast, oxytocin restrains food intake by enhancing the activity of brain regions that exert cognitive control, while concomitantly increasing the activity of structures that process food reward value. This pattern points towards a specific role of oxytocin in the regulation of eating behaviour in humans that might be of relevance for potential clinical applications.