GABA levels in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex during the viewing of appetitive and disgusting food images

Caterina Padulo, Stefano Delli Pizzi, Laura Bonanni, Richard A.E. Edden, Antonio Ferretti, Daniele Marzoli, Raffaella Franciotti, Valerio Manippa, Marco Onofrj, Gianna Sepede, Armando Tartaro, Luca Tommasi, Stefano Puglisi-Allegra, Alfredo Brancucci

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Characterizing how the brain appraises the psychological dimensions of reward is one of the central topics of neuroscience. It has become clear that dopamine neurons are implicated in the transmission of both rewarding information and aversive and alerting events through two different neuronal populations involved in encoding the motivational value and the motivational salience of stimuli, respectively. Nonetheless, there is less agreement on the role of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and the related neurotransmitter release during the processing of biologically relevant stimuli. To address this issue, we employed magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), a non-invasive methodology that allows detection of some metabolites in the human brain in vivo, in order to assess the role of the vmPFC in encoding stimulus value rather than stimulus salience. Specifically, we measured gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and, with control purposes, Glx levels in healthy subjects during the observation of appetitive and disgusting food images. We observed a decrease of GABA and no changes in Glx concentration in the vmPFC in both conditions. Furthermore, a comparatively smaller GABA reduction during the observation of appetitive food images than during the observation of disgusting food images was positively correlated with the scores obtained to the body image concerns sub-scale of Body Uneasiness Test (BUT). These results are consistent with the idea that the vmPFC plays a crucial role in processing both rewarding and aversive stimuli, possibly by encoding stimulus salience through glutamatergic and/or noradrenergic projections to deeper mesencephalic and limbic areas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)114-122
Number of pages9
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016


  • Food
  • Magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS)
  • Mesotelencephalic pathways
  • Neurotransmitter
  • Salience

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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