Overlapping neuronal circuits in addiction and obesity: Evidence of systems pathology

Nora D. Volkow, Gene Jack Wang, Joanna S. Fowler, Frank Telang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

617 Scopus citations


Drugs and food exert their reinforcing effects in part by increasing dopamine (DA) in limbic regions, which has generated interest in understanding how drug abuse/addiction relates to obesity. Here, we integrate findings from positron emission tomography imaging studies on DA's role in drug abuse/addiction and in obesity and propose a common model for these two conditions. Both in abuse/addiction and in obesity, there is an enhanced value of one type of reinforcer (drugs and food, respectively) at the expense of other reinforcers, which is a consequence of conditioned learning and resetting of reward thresholds secondary to repeated stimulation by drugs (abuse/addiction) and by large quantities of palatable food (obesity) in vulnerable individuals (i.e. genetic factors). In this model, during exposure to the reinforcer or to conditioned cues, the expected reward (processed by memory circuits) overactivates the reward and motivation circuits while inhibiting the cognitive control circuit, resulting in an inability to inhibit the drive to consume the drug or food despite attempts to do so. These neuronal circuits, which are modulated by DA, interact with one another so that disruption in one circuit can be buffered by another, which highlights the need of multiprong approaches in the treatment of addiction and obesity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3191-3200
Number of pages10
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1507
StatePublished - 12 Oct 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Compulsion
  • Dopamine
  • Imaging
  • Positron emission tomography
  • Self-control


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