The role of dopamine in motivation for food in humans: Implications for obesity

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

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

228 Scopus citations


Obesity is a major public health problem. The increasing number of obese individuals in the US adds urgency to the efforts to understand the mechanisms underlying pathological overeating. Imaging studies using positron emission tomography implicate the involvement of brain dopamine (DA) in normal and pathological food intake in humans. In normal body weight, fasting subjects, food presentation that could not be consumed was associated with increases in striatal extracellular DA, which provides evidence of an involvement of DA in non-hedonic motivational properties of food intake. In pathologically obese subjects, the authors showed reductions in striatal D2-receptor availability that were inversely associated with the weight of the subject. The involvement of the DA system in reward and reinforcement has led to the hypothesis that low brain DA activity in obese subjects predisposes them to excessive use of food. A better understanding of the role of the DA system in the motivation for food intake will help the development of better therapeutic interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)601-609
Number of pages9
JournalExpert Opinion on Therapeutic Targets
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Dopamine (DA) D2 receptor
  • Dorsal striatum
  • Imaging
  • Reward


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