Researchers have identified 2 genetic variants that interact and alter the brain’s responses to high-calorie foods, new data suggest.

Some people may be more prone to obesity because dopamine signals in their brains trigger more feelings of reward and craving than in other people when presented with high-calorie foods, researchers reported at ObesityWeek 2015. The discovery of these genetic variants that affect these brain responses, however, may aid in the development of targeted treatments for obese and overweight individuals.

“Future therapies could be more targeted to an individual’s predisposing factors, including genetics,” said study investigator Tony Goldstone, MD, PhD, who is a consultant endocrinologist at Imperial College London in the United Kingdom.

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Dr. Goldstone and colleagues have found that 2 gene variants — FTO and DRD2 — influence activity in the brain reward system when looking at pictures of high-calorie foods. Subsequently, some people may experience more cravings than the average person when presented with high-calorie foods, such as those high in fat and sugar. 

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The study included 45 European Caucasian adults aged 19 and 55 years with BMIs ranging from 19.1 to 53.1.

“Genetic variants near the FTO gene have the strongest link to obesity in the general population. Our study reveals that such a variant may in part contribute to overconsumption of energy-dense foods by altering how the brain responds to food cues in the environment through modification of brain dopaminergic systems,” Dr. Goldstone told Endocrinology Advisor.

“It is possible that people with these particular genetic variants may thus respond differently to certain treatments for obesity that modify such systems, including appetitive hormones from the gut such as ghrelin and GLP-1, drugs acting on dopamine receptors or reuptake in the brain, and even particular sorts of bariatric surgery for obesity.”

As part of their investigation, the researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to see how FTO and DRD2 alter brain response in individuals who were asked to look at pictures of either high-calorie or low-calorie foods and rate how appealing they found the pictures.

This article originally appeared on Endocrinology Advisor