Ghrelin is related to lower brain reward activation during touch
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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OriginalversjonPsychophysiology. 2023. https://doi.org/10.1111/psyp.14443
The gut hormone ghrelin drives food motivation and increases food intake, but it is also involved in the anticipation of and response to rewards other than food. This pre-registered study investigated how naturally varying ghrelin concentrations affect the processing of touch as a social reward in humans. Sixty-seven volunteers received slow caressing touch (so-called CT-targeted touch) as a social reward and control touch on their shins during 3T functional imaging on two test days. On one occasion, participants were fasted, and on another, they received a meal. On each occasion, plasma ghrelin was measured at three time points. All touch was rated as more pleasant after the meal, but there was no association between ghrelin concentrations and pleasantness. CT-targeted touch was rated as the most pleasant and activated somatosensory and reward networks (whole brain). A region-of-interest in the right medial orbitofrontal cortex (mOFC) showed lower activation during all touches, the higher the ghrelin concentrations were. During CT-targeted touch, a larger satiety response (ghrelin decrease after the meal) was associated with higher mOFC activation, and this mOFC activation was associated with higher experienced pleasantness. Overall, higher ghrelin concentrations appear to be related to a lower reward value for touch. Ghrelin may reduce the value of social stimuli, such as touch, to promote food search and intake in a state of low energy. This suggests that the role of ghrelin goes beyond assigning value to food reward.