Human obesity is associated with low-grade chronic systemic inflammation, alterations in brain structure and function, and cognitive impairment. Rodent models of obesity show that high-calorie diets cause brain inflammation (neuroinflammation) in multiple regions, including the hippocampus, and impairments in hippocampal-dependent memory tasks. To determine if similar effects exist in humans with obesity, we applied Diffusion Basis Spectrum Imaging (DBSI) to evaluate neuroinflammation and axonal integrity. We examined diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data in two independent cohorts of obese and non-obese individuals (Cohort 1: 25 obese/21 non-obese; Cohort 2: 18 obese/41 non-obese). We applied Tract-based Spatial Statistics (TBSS) to allow whole-brain white matter (WM) analyses and compare DBSI-derived isotropic and anisotropic diffusion measures between the obese and non-obese groups. In both cohorts, the obese group had significantly greater DBSI-derived restricted fraction (DBSI-RF; an indicator of neuroinflammation-related cellularity), and significantly lower DBSI-derived fiber fraction (DBSI-FF; an indicator of apparent axonal density) in several WM tracts (all corrected p < 0.05). Moreover, using region of interest analyses, average DBSI-RF and DBSI-FF values in the hippocampus were significantly greater and lower, respectively, in obese relative to non-obese individuals (Cohort 1: p = 0.045; Cohort 2: p = 0.008). Hippocampal DBSI-FF and DBSI-RF and amygdalar DBSI-FF metrics related to cognitive performance in Cohort 2. In conclusion, these findings suggest that greater neuroinflammation-related cellularity and lower apparent axonal density are associated with human obesity and cognitive performance. Future studies are warranted to determine a potential role for neuroinflammation in obesity-related cognitive impairment.
- diffusion basis spectrum imaging
- diffusion tensor imaging
- white matter