Clare Fellow, Professor Paul Fletcher is the senior author of a study published today on how the brain controls appetite

Paul Fletcher image

Clare Fellow, Professor Paul Fletcher is the senior author of a study published today in Neuroimage that explores how the brain can control our appetite. 

Cambridge scientists have shown that the hypothalamus, a key region of the brain involved in controlling appetite, is different in the brains of people who are overweight and people with obesity when compared to people who are a healthy weight.

A large number of factors influence how much we eat and the types of food we eat, including our genetics, hormone regulation, and the environment in which we live. What happens in our brains to tell us that we are hungry or full is not entirely clear, though studies have shown that the hypothalamus, a small region of the brain about the size of an almond, plays an important role.

The study involved using machine learning to analyse MRI brain scans taken from 1,351 young adults across a range of BMI scores. The results showed that the overall volume of the hypothalamus was significantly larger in the overweight and obese groups of young adults. These volume differences were most apparent in those sub-regions of the hypothalamus that control appetite through the release of hormones to balance hunger and fullness.

Professor Paul Fletcher, the study’s senior author said: “The last two decades have given us important insights about appetite control and how it may be altered in obesity. Metabolic researchers at Cambridge have played a leading role in this."

“Our hope is that by taking this new approach to analysing brain scans in large datasets, we can further extend this work into humans, ultimately relating these subtle structural brain findings to changes in appetite and eating and generating a more comprehensive understanding of obesity.”

Read the full article here