Studies in humans suggest that stronger incentive motivational responses to Pavlovian food cues may drive over-consumption leading to and maintaining obesity, particularly in susceptible individuals.
However, whether this enhanced incentive motivation emerges as a consequence of obesity or rather precedes obesity is unknown. Moreover, while human imaging studies have provided important information about differences in striatal responsiveness between susceptible and non-susceptible individuals, the neural mechanisms mediating these behavioral differences are unknown.
The Nucleus Accumbens (NAc) mediates cue-triggered reward seeking and activity in the NAc is enhanced in obesity-susceptible populations. Therefore here, we used selectively-bred obesity-prone and obesity-resistant rats to examine intrinsic differences in incentive motivation, and the role of NAc AMPARs in the expression of these behaviors prior to obesity. We found that obesity-prone rats exhibit robust cue-triggered food-seeking (Pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer, PIT). Using intra-NAc infusion of AMPAR antagonists, we show that this behavior is selectively mediated by CP-AMPARs in the NAc core.
Additionally, biochemical data suggest that this is due in part to experience-induced increases in CP-AMPAR surface expression in the NAc of obesity-prone rats. In contrast, in obesity-resistant rats PIT was weak and unreliable and training did not increase NAc AMPAR surface expression.
Collectively, these data show that food cues acquire greater incentive motivational control in obesity-susceptible populations prior to the development of obesity. This provides support to the idea that enhanced intrinsic incentive motivation may be a contributing factor, rather than a consequence of obesity. In addition, these data demonstrate a novel role for experience-induced up-regulation of NAc CP-AMPARs in PIT, pointing to potential mechanistic parallels between the processes leading to addiction and to obesity.
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