The neural mechanisms of emotion regulation impairment in women with obesity

Trevor Steward

Maladaptive emotion regulation contributes to overeating and impedes weight loss. Our study aimed to compare the voluntary downregulation of negative emotions by means of cognitive reappraisal in adult women with obesity (OB) and female healthy controls (HC) using a data-driven, multimodal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) approach. Women with OB (n = 24) and HC (n = 25) carried out an emotion regulation task during functional MRI scanning. Seed-to-voxel resting-state connectivity patterns derived from activation peaks identified by this task were compared between groups. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) was used to examine white matter microstructure integrity between regions exhibiting group differences in resting-state functional connectivity. Participants in the OB group presented reduced activation in the ventromedial prefrontal (vmPFC) cortex in comparison to the HC group when downregulating negative emotions, along with heightened activation in the extrastriate visual cortex (p < 0.05, AlphaSim-corrected). Moreover, vmPFC peak activity levels during cognitive reappraisal were negatively correlated with self-reported difficulties in emotion regulation. OB patients exhibited decreased functional connectivity between the vmPFC and the temporal pole during rest (peak-pFWE = 0.039). Decreased fractional white-matter track volume in the uncinate fasciculus, which links these two regions, was also found in participants with OB. Taken together, our findings are indicative of emotion regulation deficits in OB being underpinned by dysfunctional hypoactivity in the vmPFC and hyperactivity in the extrastriate visual cortex. Our results provide a potential target circuit for neuromodulatory interventions to improve emotion regulation skills and weight-loss intervention outcomes.

Publication information

Title: A multimodal MRI study of the neural mechanisms of emotion regulation impairment in women with obesity

Authors: Trevor Steward, Maria Picó-Pérez, Gemma Mestre-Bach, Ignacio Martínez-Zalacaín, Maria Suñol, Susana Jiménez-Murcia, Jose A. Fernández-Formoso, Nuria Vilarrasa, Amador García-Ruiz-de-Gordejuela, Misericordia Veciana de las Heras, Nuria Custal, Nuria Virgili, Rafael Lopez-Urdiales, José M. Menchón, Roser Granero, Carles Soriano-Mas & Fernando Fernandez-Aranda

Journal: Translational Psycihiatry

Year: 2019