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Stressing diets? Amygdala networks, cumulative cortisol, and weight loss in adolescents with excess weight



The amygdala is importantly involved in stress and obesity, but its role on weight change and diet-related stress remains unexplored among adolescents with excess weight. We aimed to examine the functional connectivity of the Central and Basolateral amygdala nuclei (CeA and BLA) among adolescents, and to explore the longitudinal association between brain connectivity measures and diet-related cortisol and weight loss in adolescents with excess weight.


We compared resting-state functional connectivity between adolescents with excess (EW, N = 34; Age = 16.44 ± 1.66) and normal weight (NW, N = 36; Age = 16.50 ± 1.40) using a seed-based (CeA and BLA) whole-brain approach. Then, in a subset of 30 adolescents with EW, followed-up after 3-months of dietary/lifestyle intervention, we explored for interactions between connectivity in the CeA/BLA networks and weight loss. Regression analyses were performed to explore the relationship between accumulated cortisol and weight loss, and to test the potential effect of the amygdala networks on such association.


In EW compared with NW, the CeA regions showed higher functional connectivity with anterior portions, and lower connectivity with posterior portions of the cingulate cortex, while the left BLA regions showed lower connectivity with the dorsal caudate and angular gyrus. In addition, higher connectivity between the left CeA-midbrain network was negatively associated with weight loss. Hair cortisol significantly predicted weight change (p = 0.012). However, this association was no longer significant (p = 0.164) when considering the CeA-midbrain network in the model as an additional predictor.


Adolescents with EW showed functional connectivity alterations within the BLA/CeA networks. The CeA-midbrain network might constitute an important brain pathway regulating weight change.

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Fig. 1: Between-group differences in the functional connectivity of the different seeds of the amygdala (right/left CeA and left BLA).
Fig. 2: Plot showing the significant negative correlation between the functional connectivity of the CeA-midbrain network (MNI coordinates x, y, z: 14, −14, −12) and the weight loss after a 3 months' intervention in adolescents with excess weight.


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This study has been funded by the Project NEUROECOBE (HUM-6635), granted by the Andalusian Council of Innovation, Science and Industry, Spain. OCR is funded by Postdoctoral “PERIS” Contract (SLT006/17/00236) from the Health Department of the Catalan Government, Spain. JVR is supported by a grant from the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities (FJCI-2017-33396). AVG was funded by grants MRF1141214 from the Australian Medical Research Future Fund and GNT1140197 from the National Health and Medical Research Council.


All authors report no biomedical financial interests or any potential competing interest.

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Correspondence to Oren Contreras-Rodríguez.

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Martín-Pérez, C., Contreras-Rodríguez, O., Verdejo-Román, J. et al. Stressing diets? Amygdala networks, cumulative cortisol, and weight loss in adolescents with excess weight. Int J Obes 44, 2001–2010 (2020).

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