Persistent effects of obesity: a neuroplasticity hypothesis

Bridget A. Matikainen-Ankney, Alexxai V. Kravitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


The obesity epidemic is a leading cause of health problems in the United States, increasing the risk of cardiovascular, endocrine, and psychiatric diseases. Although many people lose weight through changes in diet and lifestyle, keeping the weight off remains a challenge. Here, we discuss a hypothesis that seeks to explain why obesity is so persistent. There is a great degree of overlap in the circuits implicated in substance use disorder and obesity, and neural plasticity of these circuits in response to drugs of abuse is well documented. We hypothesize that obesity is also associated with neural plasticity in these circuits, and this may underlie persistent changes in behavior, energy balance, and body weight. Here, we discuss how obesity-associated reductions in motivation and physical activity may be rooted in neurophysiological alterations in these circuits. Such plasticity may alter how humans and animals use, expend, and store energy, even after weight loss.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-239
Number of pages19
JournalAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • glutamate
  • high-fat diet
  • obesity
  • plasticity
  • synaptic


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