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Imaging an Estrogen Related Enzyme May Help to Predict Obesity, Self-Control Issues


The News in Brief:

  • A brain imaging study reveals that low levels of an estrogen-producing enzyme are associated with higher body mass index (BMI) and lower self-control.
  • The study is the first to show a direct correlation between availability of the enzyme aromatase in the amygdala and BMI.
  • The findings suggest amygdala aromatase may be a marker of propensity to obesity and lower ability to self-regulate eating behavior.

STONY BROOK, NY, August 31, 2020 – Findings from a positron emission tomography (PET) brain imaging study of the amygdala reveals that low levels of the enzyme aromatase, which catalyzes estrogen biosynthesis, are associated with a higher body mass index (BMI) and lower self-control, as measured by a standard personality test.  Published in PNAS, the study is led by Anat Biegon, PhD, Professor of Radiology and Director of the Center on Gender, Hormones and Health at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University. The results suggest that brain aromatase imaging offers a novel method for characterizing the role of estrogen produced in the brain in obesity and other conditions involving impairments in self-regulation.

Obesity is a public health problem affecting a growing proportion of children and adults. Because estrogen influences body weight and behavioral responses to appetitive stimuli, the researchers used an aromatase-specific radiotracer with PET to measure aromatase in the brains of 43 men and women (average age: 40 years) of healthy to obese weight ranges.

Anat Biegon, PhD

“This is the first study to show a direct correlation between aromatase availability in the amygdala and BMI,” said Dr. Biegon. “It is also the first to show an inverse correlation between amygdala aromatase and self-control in the same individuals.”

She explained that this particular finding raises the potential for amygdala aromatase to be a sex neutral contributor to BMI and therefore a possible marker to measure for both men and women with obesity and self-regulation problems.

Dr. Biegon said a possible extension of this work is to examine other brain regions where estrogen was shown to regulate appetite and energy utilization. Such studies could determine the value of aromatase measures within the brain to discriminate between binge eating and healthy populations, as well as help predict weight maintenance versus regain following bariatric surgery in adults.

The imaging part of the study was completed at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) under a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy with support from its Office of Biological and Environmental Research. Additional funding included grants from the National Institutes of Health through the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and BNL.

About Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University:

Established in 1971, Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University includes 25 academic departments. The three missions of the School are to advance the understanding of the origins of human health and disease; train the next generation of committed, curious and highly capable physicians; and deliver world-class compassionate healthcare. As a member of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and a Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) accredited medical school, Stony Brook is one of the foremost institutes of higher medical education in the country. Each year the School trains nearly 500 medical students and more than 600 medical residents and fellows. Faculty research includes National Institutes of Health-sponsored programs in neurological diseases, cancer, cardiovascular disorders, biomedical imaging, regenerative medicine, infectious diseases, and many other topics. Physicians on the School of Medicine faculty deliver world-class medical care through more than 31,000 inpatient, 108,000 emergency room, and 940,000 outpatient visits annually at Stony Brook University Hospital and affiliated clinical programs, making its clinical services one of the largest and highest quality medical schools on Long Island, New York. To learn more, visit

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