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Patricia Iozzo and Maria Angela Guzzardi

The prevalence of obesity has reached epidemic proportions and keeps growing. Obesity seems implicated in the pathogenesis of cognitive dysfunction, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and vice versa. Growing scientific efforts are being devoted to the identification of central mechanisms underlying the frequent association between obesity and cognitive dysfunction. Glucose brain handling undergoes dynamic changes during the life-course, suggesting that its alterations might precede and contribute to degenerative changes or signaling abnormalities. Imaging of the glucose analog 18F-labeled fluorodeoxyglucose (18FDG) by positron emission tomography (PET) is the gold-standard for the assessment of cerebral glucose metabolism in vivo. This review summarizes the current literature addressing brain glucose uptake measured by PET imaging, and the effect of insulin on brain metabolism, trying to embrace a life-course vision in the identification of patterns that may explain (and contribute to) the frequent association between obesity and cognitive dysfunction. The current evidence supports that brain hypermetabolism and brain insulin resistance occur in selected high-risk conditions as a transient phenomenon, eventually evolving toward normal or low values during life or disease progression. Associative studies suggest that brain hypermetabolism predicts low BDNF levels, hepatic and whole body insulin resistance, food desire and an unfavorable balance between anticipated reward from food and cognitive inhibitory control. Emerging mechanistic links involve the microbiota and the metabolome, which correlate with brain metabolism and cognition, deserving attention as potential future prevention targets.