Researchers at the University of São Paulo (Brazil) have found signs of damage that could be related to inflammation in the brains of obese adolescents. Although obesity is primarily associated with weight gain, recent studies suggest that the disease triggers inflammation in the nervous system that could damage important regions of the brain.
In their new work, which is to be presented at the annual meeting of the Radiology Society of North America (RSNA), researchers used diffusion tensile magnetic resonance imaging (DTI), a technique that tracks the diffusion of water along the white matter tracts that carry brain signal.
The researchers compared the DTI results of 59 obese adolescents and 61 healthy adolescents aged 12 to 16 years. From the DTI, the researchers derived a measure called fractional anisotropy (FA), which correlates with the white matter condition of the brain. A reduction in FA is indicative of an increase in white matter damage.
The results showed a reduction in FA values in obese adolescents in regions located in the corpus callosum, a set of nerve fibers that connects the left and right hemispheres of the brain. A decrease in FA was also found in the orbitofrontal cortex, a brain region related to emotional control and the reward circuit. None of the brain regions of obese patients had increased FA.
“The brain changes found in obese adolescents are related to important regions responsible for appetite control, emotions and cognitive functions,” explains study co-author Pamela Bertolazzi.
This damage pattern was correlated with some inflammatory markers such as leptin, a hormone produced by fat cells that helps regulate energy levels and fat stores. In some obese people, the brain does not respond to leptin, which makes them keep eating despite adequate or excessive fat stores. This condition, known as leptin resistance, causes fat cells to produce even more leptin.
Worsening white matter was also associated with insulin levels, a hormone produced in the pancreas that helps regulate blood sugar levels. Obese people often suffer from insulin resistance, a state in which the body is resistant to the effects of the hormone.
The researcher points out that additional studies are needed to determine if this inflammation in young people with obesity is a consequence of structural changes in the brain. “In the future, we would like to repeat the brain magnetic resonance in these adolescents after treatment to assess whether the brain changes are reversible or not,” he concluded.
Source: Agencia ID