Neuroinflammation and White Matter Alterations in Obesity Assessed by Diffusion Basis Spectrum Imaging

Amjad Samara, Tatianna Murphy, Jeremy Strain, Jerrel Rutlin, Peng Sun, Olga Neyman, Nitya Sreevalsan, Joshua S. Shimony, Beau M. Ances, Sheng Kwei Song, Tamara Hershey, Sarah A. Eisenstein

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13 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish
Article number464
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
StatePublished - Jan 14 2020


  • diffusion basis spectrum imaging
  • diffusion tensor imaging
  • neuroinflammation
  • obesity
  • white matter


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