High Fructose Corn Syrup and Brain Response Patterns

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Robert Sherwin, MD
N. H. Long Professor of Medicine (Endocrinology); Section Chief, Endocrinology; Associate Dean for Clinical and Translational Sciences, Yale School of Medicine
Director, Yale Center for Clinical Investigation; Director, Yale Diabetes Research Center

Project: In America, 34% of adolescents and 67% of adults are overweight or obese, substantially increasing their long-term risk for developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Increased consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is postulated to be a contributor to the obesity epidemic. It is not known, however, whether consumption of commonly-consumed sugars, such as high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), affects neural responses in reward-motivation, hunger-satiety, and decision-making areas of the human brain, thereby potentially altering eating behavior. In the proposed study, we will investigate how HFCS affects brain response patterns in obese and normal weight adolescents and adults, providing new insights into the factors influencing eating behavior and the development of obesity. The overall aim of this project is to identify brain response patterns in reward-motivation, hunger-satiety, and decision-making brain regions in response to drinking HFCS in normal weight and obese adolescents and adults. Our preliminary data using brain imaging have shown that obese adults as well as adolescents show much greater brain changes in motivation-reward and emotion processing regions during high-calorie food cue stimuli or following consumption of glucose, particularly in children. Thus, in an environment inundated with advertising promoting consumption of high-calorie foods, our data suggest that adolescents may be particularly vulnerable to such food cues, as their brains, particularly prefrontal cortices involved in inhibiting and regulating desires and emotions, are not fully developed. Whether the changes in brain function in obesity are reversible and the neurochemical mechanisms driving these changes are unknown, and will be a future direction of this work. These collaborative studies will take advantage of the brain imaging facilities at Yale and will involve patients recruited from Yale and the University of Connecticut. In addition, the work will take advantage of the scientific and metabolic analytic expertise of the Jackson Lab and the Weizmann Institute.