The obese brain athlete: Self-regulation of the anterior insula in adiposity

Sabine Frank, Sangkyun Lee, Hubert Preissl, Bernd Schultes, Niels Birbaumer, Ralf Veit

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The anterior insular cortex (AIC) is involved in emotional processes and gustatory functions which can be examined by imaging techniques. Such imaging studies showed increased activation in the insula in response to food stimuli as well as a differential activation in lean and obese people. Additionally, studies investigating lean subjects established the voluntary regulation of the insula by a real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging-brain computer interface (rtfMRI-BCI) approach. In this exploratory study, 11 lean and 10 obese healthy, male participants were investigated in a rtfMRI-BCI protocol. During the training sessions, all obese participants were able to regulate the activity of the AIC voluntarily, while four lean participants were not able to regulate at all. In successful regulators, functional connectivity during regulation vs. relaxation between the AIC and all other regions of the brain was determined by a seed voxel approach. Lean in comparison to obese regulators showed stronger connectivity in cingular and temporal cortices during regulation. We conclude, that obese people possess an improved capacity to self-regulate the anterior insula, a brain system tightly related to bodily awareness and gustatory functions.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere42570
JournalPLoS One
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 8 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)


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