Neurobehavioral correlates of obesity are largely heritable | University of Tartu

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Contacts of UT units

Faculty of Arts and Humanities
Faculty phone: 
+372 737 5341
Faculty address: 
Jakobi 2, rooms 116–121, 51005 Tartu
  • Dean's Office
    Faculty phone: 
    + 372 737 5341
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 2, rooms 116–121, 51005 Tartu
  • Institute of History and Archaeology
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5651
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 2, 51005 Tartu
  • Institute of Estonian and General Linguistics
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5221
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 2, 51005 Tartu
  • Institute of Philosophy and Semiotics
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5314
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 2, rooms 309–352, 51005 Tartu
  • Institute of Cultural Research
    Faculty phone: 
    (+372) 737 5223
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 16, 51003 Tartu
  • School of Theology and Religious Studies
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5301
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18–310, 50090 Tartu
  • College of Foreign Languages and Cultures
    Faculty address: 
    Lossi 3, 51003 Tartu
  • Viljandi Culture Academy
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 435 5232
    Faculty address: 
    Posti 1, 71004 Viljandi
Faculty of Social Sciences
Faculty phone: 
+372 737 5957
Faculty address: 
Lossi 36, 51003 Tartu
  • Dean's Office
    Faculty phone: 
    + 372 737 5900
    Faculty address: 
    Lossi 36, 51003 Tartu
  • Institute of Education
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6440
    Faculty address: 
    Salme 1a–29, 50103 Tartu
  • Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5582
    Faculty address: 
    Lossi 36–301, 51003 Tartu
  • School of Economics and Business Administration
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6310
    Faculty address: 
    J. Liivi 4, 50409 Tartu
  • Institute of Psychology
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    Faculty address: 
    Näituse 2, 50409 Tartu
  • School of Law
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  • Institute of Social Studies
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    Lossi 36, 51003 Tartu
  • Narva College
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Faculty of Medicine
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Ravila 19, 50411 Tartu
  • Dean's Office
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    Faculty address: 
    Ravila 19, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Biomedicine and Translational Medicine
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    Faculty address: 
    Biomeedikum, Ravila 19, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Pharmacy
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    Nooruse 1, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Dentistry
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  • Institute of Clinical Medicine
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    L. Puusepa 8, 50406 Tartu
  • Institute of Family Medicine and Public Health
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    +372 737 4190
    Faculty address: 
    Ravila 19, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Sport Sciences and Physiotherapy
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5360
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 5–205, 51005 Tartu
Faculty of Science and Technology
Faculty phone: 
+372 737 5820
Faculty address: 
Vanemuise 46–208, 51005 Tartu
  • Dean's Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5820
    Faculty address: 
    Vanemuise 46–208, 51005 Tartu
  • Institute of Computer Science
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5445
    Faculty address: 
    J. Liivi 2, 50409 Tartu
  • Estonian Marine Institute
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 671 8902
    Faculty address: 
    Mäealuse 14, 12618 Tallinn
  • Institute of Physics
    Faculty address: 
    W. Ostwaldi 1, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Chemistry
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5261
    Faculty address: 
    Ravila 14a, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Mathematics and Statistics
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5860
    Faculty address: 
    J. Liivi 2, 50409 Tartu
  • Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology
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    Riia 23, 23b–134, 51010 Tartu
  • Tartu Observatory
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    Observatooriumi 1, Tõravere, 61602 Tartumaa
  • Institute of Technology
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    Faculty address: 
    Nooruse 1, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences
    Faculty phone: 
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    Faculty address: 
    Vanemuise 46, 51003 Tartu
Institutions
  • Library
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5702
    Faculty address: 
    W. Struve 1, 50091 Tartu
  • Youth Academy
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5581
    Faculty address: 
    Uppsala 10, 51003 Tartu
  • Institute of Genomics
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 4000
    Faculty address: 
    Riia 23b, 51010 Tartu
  • Museum
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5674
    Faculty address: 
    Lossi 25, 51003 Tartu
  • University of Tartu Natural History Museum and Botanical Garden
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6076
    Faculty address: 
    Vanemuise 46, 51003 Tartu
Support Units
  • Administrative Office
    Faculty phone: 
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    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18a, 51005 Tartu
  • Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6339
    Faculty address: 
    Lossi 3, III floor, 51003 Tartu
  • University Office in Tallinn
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6600
    Faculty address: 
    Teatri väljak 3, 10143 Tallinn
  • Estates Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5137
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18a, 51005 Tartu
  • Finance Office
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    +372 737 5125
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 4, 51005 Tartu
  • Grant Office
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    +372 737 6215
    Faculty address: 
    Lossi 3, III floor, 51003 Tartu
  • Information Technology Office
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    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18a, 51005 Tartu
  • Human Resources Office
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    Ülikooli 18, rooms 302 and 304, 50090 Tartu
  • Internal Audit Office
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    Ülikooli 17–103, 51005 Tartu
  • Marketing and Communication Office
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    Ülikooli 18, rooms 102, 104, 209, 210, 50090 Tartu
  • Office of Academic Affairs
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    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18, 50090 Tartu
  • Procurement Office
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    Ülikooli 18a, 51005 Tartu
  • Rector's Strategy Office
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    Ülikooli 18, 50090 Tartu
  • Student Council
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Other Units
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    Faculty address: 
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  • Tartu Student Village
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  • Tartu Students’ Club
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    Faculty address: 
    Kalevi 24, 51010 Tartu
  • University of Tartu Press
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    Faculty address: 
    W. Struve 1, 50091 Tartu
  • Tartu University Hospital
    Faculty address: 
    L. Puusepa 1a, 50406 Tartu
  • University of Tartu Foundation
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    +372 737 5852
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18, 50090 Tartu
  • View all other units

Neurobehavioral correlates of obesity are largely heritable

Brain maps of the associations between BMI and cortical thickness.
When it comes to weight gain, the problem may be mostly in our heads and genes. Clinicians should consider how the way we think can make us vulnerable to obesity, and how obesity is genetically intertwined with brain structure and mental performance, according to new research. 
The study, led by researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital (The Neuro) and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Aug. 28, 2018, was an examination of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and cognitive test data from 1,200 individuals, supplied as part of the Human Connectome Project. 
Researchers found that people with higher a body mass index (BMI) showed reduced cognitive flexibility, ability to delay gratification, visuospatial ability and verbal memory. They also found that people with increased BMI tended to have a thicker left prefrontal cortex and a thinner right prefrontal cortex. Previous studies have shown damage to the right prefrontal cortex can lead to increased eating. 
Subjects with higher BMI also had increased volume in the left amygdala, which is believed to play a role in response to food cues. They also had decreased volume in the entorhinal-parahippocampal structures, which are associated with episodic memory and context mediation. This suggests a model where people prone to obesity are more sensitive to visual food cues, and less able to resist them by considering the negative context of eating, like weight gain.
Many of the subjects were siblings, including fraternal and identical twins. This allowed researchers to determine the heritability of the traits as well as obesity, measured by BMI. Using statistical methods, researchers found that many of the cognitive and neurological traits have genetic links with obesity. This suggests the role genetics play in obesity is manifested at least partially through brain anatomy and cognitive functions. 
“This research will be useful in developing interventions to help people with obesity,” says study’s lead author, Uku Vainik, a researcher at The Neuro and the Institute of Psychology at University of Tartu. “Modifying neurobehavioural factors with cognitive training, to improve people’s ability to resist food, for example, could hold promise. Interventions shouldn’t just focus on diet, but also acknowledge the neurobehavioural profile that obesity is genetically intertwined with. Such interventions might help people to stay lean despite their genetic signature.”
“This work adds support to the theory that body weight in humans is partly under control of higher-level brain systems involved in cognition, decision-making and motivation,” says Alain Dagher, the paper’s senior author. “Furthermore, individual differences in these brain systems that regulate food intake appear to be moderately heritable.” 
This study was supported by funds from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. Uku Vainik was supported by the Estonian Research Council, and Fonds de recherche du Québec – Santé (FRQS).
Additional information: Uku Vainik, Research Fellow of the Department of Experimental Psychology (University of Tartu), uku.vainik [ät] ut.ee
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