The contribution of brain reward circuits to the obesity epidemic

Eric Stice, Dianne P. Figlewicz, Blake A. Gosnell, Allen S. Levine, Wayne E. Pratt

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180 Scopus citations


One of the defining characteristics of the research of Ann E. Kelley was her recognition that the neuroscience underlying basic learning and motivation processes also shed significant light upon mechanisms underlying drug addiction and maladaptive eating patterns. In this review, we examine the parallels that exist in the neural pathways that process both food and drug reward, as determined by recent studies in animal models and human neuroimaging experiments. We discuss contemporary research that suggests that hyperphagia leading to obesity is associated with substantial neurochemical changes in the brain. These findings verify the relevance of reward pathways for promoting consumption of palatable, calorically dense foods, and lead to the important question of whether changes in reward circuitry in response to intake of such foods serve a causal role in the development and maintenance of some cases of obesity. Finally, we discuss the potential value for future studies at the intersection of the obesity epidemic and the neuroscience of motivation, as well as the potential concerns that arise from viewing excessive food intake as an "addiction". We suggest that it might be more useful to focus on overeating that results in frank obesity, and multiple health, interpersonal, and occupational negative consequences as a form of food "abuse".

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2047-2058
Number of pages12
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Issue number9
StatePublished - Nov 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Eric Stice is a Senior Research Scientist at Oregon Research Institute; his research cited herein was supported by NIH grants R1MH064560A , DK080760 , and DK092468 . Dianne Figlewicz Lattemann is a Senior Research Career Scientist, Biomedical Laboratory Research Program, Department of Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System, Seattle, Washington; and her research cited in this paper has been supported by NIH grant DK40963 . The research by Blake A. Gosnell and Allen S. Levine was supported by NIH/NIDA ( R01DA021280 ) (ASL, BAG) and NIH/NIDDK ( P30DK50456 ) (ASL). Wayne E. Pratt is currently supported by DA030618.


  • Drug addiction
  • Feeding
  • Food abuse
  • Food addiction
  • Mesolimbic dopamine system
  • Obesity
  • Opioids
  • Reinforcement
  • Reward


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