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Grant Details

Grant Number: 5R01CA152062-05 Interpret this number
Primary Investigator: Bechara, Antoine
Organization: University Of Southern California
Project Title: Neurocognitive Mechanisms of Decisions and Impulse Control in Nutrition Behavior
Fiscal Year: 2015


DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): This project seeks to identify key neural pathways responsible for one's loss of ability to self-control and exert willpower when faced with tempting choices such as drugs. However, given the impracticality of using drugs in a population of adolescents, we will use food cues as a model to examine how calorie-rich food impacts activity within these neural systems. Three key neural systems are hypothesized to contribute to the loss of willpower to resist food, and these same neural systems have been implicated in the willpower to resist drugs: (1) a hyperactive amygdala-striatal (dopamine-dependent) neural system, which promotes cue-induced habitual behaviors; (2) a hypoactive prefrontal cortex neural system, which subserves decision-making and impulse control capacities; and (3) an altered insular cortex function, which responds to homeostatic and interoceptive signals triggered by states of deprivation, or by exposure to environmental cues that elicit craving. The insula translates these interoceptive signals into what subjectively become experienced as an urge, which in turn acts to (1) exacerbate the hypersensivity of the amygdala-striatal system, and (2) weaken the inhibitory function of the prefrontal system. Using BOLD functional magnetic resonance imaging techniques, we will test the hypothesis that high behavioral measures of consumption of foods that are high in fat and sugar, as measured by the Youth/Adolescent Questionnaire (YAQ), will correlate with (1) increased activity in an amygdala-striatal neural system that promotes habitual and impulsive behaviors, and (2) decreased activity in a prefrontal cortex system for decision-making and inhibitory control. We will also test the hypothesis that food deprivation induces an increased activation of the insular cortex with the consequence of exacerbating activity of the habit system, and weakening activity of the prefrontal system. The proposed research is of high public health significance as it advances knowledge for creating novel intervention strategies that are transferrable to the prevention of substance abuse. In particular, the current project is also relevant to cancer prevention as it advances knowledge that promotes healthier eating, avert compulsive eating, and reduce cancer risk behaviors.