Public lectures – Diet, Obesity & the Brain

Date: May 27, 2023, 2-4PM

Location: Auditorium – Grande Bibliothèque, 475 Boul. de Maisonneuve E, Montréal, QC H2L 5C4


Join us for an exciting series of three public lectures on Diet, Obesity & the Brain by leading researchers in the field, presented by the Canadian Association for Neuroscience.

Hosts: Natasha Rajah, McGill University and Douglas Hospital Research Centre & Alain Dagher, McGill University and Montreal Neurological Institute


2 PM: Patricia Pelufo-Silveira, MD, MSc, PhD: Early environment, food preferences and life-long health / Environnement précoce, préférences alimentaires et santé tout au long de la vie (presentation in English but speaker will answer questions in French and English)

2:30PM: Stephanie Fulton, PhD: Dietary and metabolic threats to anxiety and depression prevalence – Menaces alimentaires et métaboliques sur la prévalence de la dépression et de l’anxiété (presentation in English but speaker will answer questions in French and English)

3:00 PM Alain Dagher, MD: Obésité et cerveau / Obesity and  the Brain  (presentation in French, but speaker will answer questions in French and English)

3:30 PM: Q&A with invited speakers

Patricia Pelufo-Silveira, MD, MSc, PhD:

Early environment, food preferences and life-long health 

Presentation Summary:

The quality of the environment during early life (fetal development and childhood) influences the establishment of eating behaviors and food preferences. This relationship goes beyond the access to specific foods, cultural and learning aspects. In fact, stressful and non-optimal conditions during early life can permanently affect the function of brain structures and systems that influence eating behavior and have an impact on the risk for obesity and metabolic diseases during the life-course.

About Patricia Pelufo-Silveira, MD, MSc, PhD

Patricia Pelufo-SilveiraDr Silveira is the scientific director of the Genomics and Epigenetics Pillar of the Ludmer Centre for Neuroinformatics & Mental Health, based at the Douglas Research Centre, and Associate Professor at the Department of Psychiatry at McGill University. She is also a Visiting Associate Professor, Department of Paediatrics, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore.

A pediatrician and neuroscientist, Dr Silveira’s research focuses on how perinatal and early-childhood environments interact with individual differences in biological processes, shaping and modulating both health and disease risk across the lifespan, into old age. Her aim is to identify how gene networks interact with environmental adversities early in life, modifying endophenotypes (impulsivity, sensitivity to reward, executive function, food choices) that ultimately affect healthy growth and neurodevelopment, increasing an individual’s risk for developing chronic metabolic diseases and psychopathologies across their lifespan.

Important research networks:

Member of the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child

Member of the College of New Scholars, Royal Society of Canada

Stephanie Fulton, PhD:

Dietary and metabolic threats to anxiety and depression prevalence

Presentation Summary:

The centrality of mental health to overall wellbeing has never been more apparent. Depression and anxiety disorders are prevalent and disabling mental health conditions and their incidence is compounded by obesity. The interchange between metabolic and mood dysfunction can perpetuate a cycle of despair, overeating and physical inactivity that enhances obesity severity and numerous associated health risks.  Mounting evidence reveals an important influence of internal, biological stressors resulting from alterations in energy metabolism on motivation and mood states. Several findings reveal that some of the psychological consequences of obesity stem from poor diet and associated immune responses and highlight a role for neuroinflammation and neuroplastic adaptations in underlying brain circuits. Dr. Fulton will discuss findings regarding the contribution of dietary, metabolic and neurobiological effectors to depression and anxiety development and progression.

About Stephanie Fulton, PhD

Stephanie FultonStephanie Fulton received her PhD in psychology at Concordia University in 2003 which was followed by postdoctoral training at Harvard Medical School in neuroendocrinology and metabolism. Dr. Fulton began her independent career in the Department of Nutrition at the Université de Montréal and the Centre de Recherche du CHUM (CRCHUM) in 2008 where she is currently full professor. She is a member of the Center for Studies in Behavioural Neurobiology of Concordia University, the Modern Diet and Physiology Research Center and the Food4BrainHealth France-Canada research network. Her team at the CRCHUM investigates the neurometabolic processes underlying motivation and emotional states and has made key advancements in our understanding of the effects of diet and obesity on anxiety and depression risk.

Dr. Fulton’s research is supported by federal grants from Canadian Institute of Health Research and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. She was the recipient of the Fonds de Recherche du Québec – Santé (FRQS) Reseau de recherche en santé cardiometabolique, diabète et obésité Young Investigator Award and CRCHUM Award of Excellence. She co-founded and –organizes the Canadian Neurometabolic Club and Meeting since 2012.

Alain Dagher, MD:

Obesity and the Brain

Presentation Summary:

To regulate body weight, our body has a system called homeostasis. Homeostasis helps us know when to start and stop eating food, and prevents starvation by making us hungry when we lose weight. However, there is also evidence that decision-making skills play a role in controlling our eating habits.

Advertising and highly processed foods are linked to the increase in obesity over the past 50 years. These factors overwhelm our body’s homeostatic defences and cause us to make poor health choices. The propensity to overeat in the response to the abundance of cheap food is heritable (genetic), and expressed in the brain.

On the other hand, being overweight can harm the brain and increase the likelihood of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. I will show evidence that treating obesity in adults could undo the damage done to the brain and decrease the risk of developing dementia and cerebrovascular disease later on.

About Alain Dagher MD

Alain DagherAlain Dagher is a neurologist at the Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University. He was trained at the University of Toronto, McGill, Cornell University, and Hammersmith Hospital, London. His research has two components: (1) understanding of Parkinson’s disease; (2) identifying the neural mechanisms that support motivated decision-making, with application to addiction and obesity. In his lab, researchers combine functional and anatomical brain imaging in human subjects with genomics, psychological and cognitive measures to understand how a brain becomes vulnerable to disease and to maladaptive behaviours.