"Hunger is the best spice" is an old and wise saying that acknowledges the fact that almost any food tastes better when we are hungry. The neurobiological underpinnings of this lore include activation of the brain's reward system and the stimulation of this system by the hunger-promoting hormone, ghrelin. Ghrelin is produced largely from the stomach and levels are higher preprandially. The ghrelin receptor is expressed in many brain areas important for feeding control, not only hypothalamic nuclei involved in energy balance regulation but also reward-linked areas such as the ventral tegmental area (VTA). By targeting the mesoaccumbal dopamine neurons of the VTA, ghrelin recruits pathways important for food reward-related behaviors that show overlap with but are also distinct from those important for food intake. Here, we review a variety of studies that support the notion that ghrelin signaling at the level of the mesolimbic system is one of the key molecular substrates that provides a physiological signal connecting gut and reward pathways. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
The parabrachial nucleus (PBN) is a key nucleus for the regulation of feeding behavior. Inhibitory inputs from the hypothalamus to the PBN play a crucial role in the normal maintenance of feeding behavior, because their loss leads to starvation. Viscerosensory stimuli result in neuronal activation of the PBN. However, the origin and neurochemical identity of the excitatory neuronal input to the PBN remain largely unexplored. Here, we hypothesize that hindbrain glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) neurons provide excitatory inputs to the PBN, activation of which may lead to a reduction in feeding behavior. Our data, obtained from mice expressing the yellow fluorescent protein in GLP-1-producing neurons, revealed that hindbrain GLP-1-producing neurons project to the lateral PBN (lPBN). Stimulation of lPBN GLP-1 receptors (GLP-1Rs) reduced the intake of chow and palatable food and decreased body weight in rats. It also activated lPBN neurons, reflected by an increase in the number of c-Fos-positive cells in this region. Further support for an excitatory role of GLP-1 in the PBN is provided by electrophysiological studies showing a remarkable increase in firing of lPBN neurons after Exendin-4 application. We show that within the PBN, GLP-1R activation increased gene expression of 2 energy balance regulating peptides, calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) and IL-6. Moreover, nearly 70% of the lPBN GLP-1 fibers innervated lPBN CGRP neurons. Direct intra-lPBN CGRP application resulted in anorexia. Collectively, our molecular, anatomical, electrophysiological, pharmacological, and behavioral data provide evidence for a functional role of the GLP-1R for feeding control in the PBN.
"Food addiction" has become a focus of interest for researchers attempting to explain certain processes and/or behaviors that may contribute to the development of obesity. Although the scientific discussion on "food addiction" is in its nascent stage, it has potentially important implications for treatment and prevention strategies. As such, it is important to critically reflect on the appropriateness of the term "food addiction", which combines the concepts of "substance-based" and behavioral addiction. The currently available evidence for a substance-based food addiction is poor, partly because systematic clinical and translational studies are still at an early stage. We do however view both animal and existing human data as consistent with the existence of addictive eating behavior. Accordingly, we stress that similar to other behaviors eating can become an addiction in thus predisposed individuals under specific environmental circumstances. Here, we introduce current diagnostic and neurobiological concepts of substance-related and non-substance-related addictive disorders, and highlight the similarities and dissimilarities between addiction and overeating. We conclude that "food addiction" is a misnomer because of the ambiguous connotation of a substance-related phenomenon. We instead propose the term "eating addiction" to underscore the behavioral addiction to eating; future research should attempt to define the diagnostic criteria for an eating addiction, for which DSM-5 now offers an umbrella via the introduction on Non-Substance-Related Disorders within the category Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders.
To stop smoking is commonly associated with significant weight gain, but the mechanisms for this are poorly understood. We assessed the effects of smoking cessation on body weight, insulin sensitivity, ?-cell function, and appetite.
A number of appetite-regulating gut hormones alter behaviors linked to reward, anxiety/mood, memory and cognitive function, although for some of these (notably GLP-1 and CCK) the endogenous signal may be CNS-derived. From a physiological perspective it seems likely that these hormones, whose secretion is altered by nutritional status and by bariatric weight loss surgery, orchestrate neurobiological effects that are integrated and linked to feeding/metabolic control. Consistent with a role in hunger and meal initiation, ghrelin increases motivated behavior for food and, when food is not readily available, decreases behaviors in anxiety tests that would otherwise hinder the animal from finding food. Of the many anorexigenic signals, GLP-1 and PYY have been linked to a suppressed reward function and CCK (and possibly GLP-1) to increased anxiety-like behavior.
Almost all circulating gut peptides contribute to the control of food intake by signalling satiety. One important exception is ghrelin, the only orexigenic peptide hormone thus far described. Ghrelin secretion increases before meals and behavioural and electrophysiological evidence shows that ghrelin acts in the hypothalamus via homeostatic pathways to signal hunger and increase food intake and adiposity. These findings strongly suggest that ghrelin is a dynamically regulated peripheral hunger signal. However, ghrelin also interacts with the brain reward pathways to increase food intake, alter food preference and enhance food reward. Here we discuss ghrelins role as an endocrine gut-brain reward signal in relation to homeostatic and hedonic feeding control.
The central ghrelin signaling system engages key pathways of importance for feeding control, recently shown to include those engaged in anxiety-like behavior in rodents. Here we sought to determine whether ghrelin impacts on the central serotonin system, which has an important role in anxiety. We focused on two brain areas, the amygdala (of importance for the mediation of fear and anxiety) and the dorsal raphe (i.e. the site of origin of major afferent serotonin pathways, including those that project to the amygdala). In these brain areas, we measured serotonergic turnover (using HPLC) and the mRNA expression of a number of serotonin-related genes (using real-time PCR). We found that acute central administration of ghrelin to mice increased the serotonergic turnover in the amygdala. It also increased the mRNA expression of a number of serotonin receptors, both in the amygdala and in the dorsal raphe. Studies in ghrelin receptor (GHS-R1A) knock-out mice showed a decreased mRNA expression of serotonergic receptors in both the amygdala and the dorsal raphe, relative to their wild-type littermates. We conclude that the central serotonin system is a target for ghrelin, providing a candidate neurochemical substrate of importance for ghrelins effects on mood.
Increasing clinical and therapeutic interest in the neurobiology of eating disorders reflects their dramatic impact on health. Chronic food restriction resulting in severe weight loss is a major symptom described in restrictive anorexia nervosa (AN) patients, and they also suffer from metabolic disturbances, infertility, osteopenia, and osteoporosis. Restrictive AN, mostly observed in young women, is the third largest cause of chronic illness in teenagers of industrialized countries. From a neurobiological perspective, AN-linked behaviors can be considered an adaptation that permits the endurance of reduced energy supply, involving central and/or peripheral reprograming. The severe weight loss observed in AN patients is accompanied by significant changes in hormones involved in energy balance, feeding behavior, and bone formation, all of which can be replicated in animals models. Increasing evidence suggests that AN could be an addictive behavior disorder, potentially linking defects in the reward mechanism with suppressed food intake, heightened physical activity, and mood disorder. Surprisingly, the plasma levels of ghrelin, an orexigenic hormone that drives food-motivated behavior, are increased. This increase in plasma ghrelin levels seems paradoxical in light of the restrained eating adopted by AN patients, and may rather result from an adaptation to the disease. The aim of this review is to describe the role played by ghrelin in AN focusing on its central vs. peripheral actions. In AN patients and in rodent AN models, chronic food restriction induces profound alterations in the «?ghrelin?» signaling that leads to the development of inappropriate behaviors like hyperactivity or addiction to food starvation and therefore a greater depletion in energy reserves. The question of a transient insensitivity to ghrelin and/or a potential metabolic reprograming is discussed in regard of new clinical treatments currently investigated.
Obesity has reached global epidemic proportions and creating an urgent need to understand mechanisms underlying excessive and uncontrolled food intake. Ghrelin, the only known circulating orexigenic hormone, potently increases food reward behavior. The neurochemical circuitry that links ghrelin to the mesolimbic reward system and to the increased food reward behavior remains unclear. Here we examine whether VTA-NAc dopaminergic signaling is required for the effects of ghrelin on food reward and intake. In addition, we examine the possibility of endogenous ghrelin acting on the VTA-NAc dopamine neurons. A D1-like or a D2 receptor antagonist was injected into the NAc in combination with ghrelin microinjection into the VTA to investigate whether this blockade attenuates ghrelin-induced food reward behavior. VTA injections of ghrelin produced a significant increase in food motivation/reward behavior, as measured by sucrose-induced progressive ratio operant conditioning, and chow intake. Pretreatment with either a D1-like or D2 receptor antagonist into the NAc, completely blocked the reward effect of ghrelin, leaving chow intake intact. We also found that this circuit is potentially relevant for the effects of endogenously released ghrelin as both antagonists reduced fasting (a state of high circulating levels of ghrelin) elevated sucrose-motivated behavior but not chow hyperphagia. Taken together our data identify the VTA to NAc dopaminergic projections, along with D1-like and D2 receptors in the NAc, as essential elements of the ghrelin responsive circuits controlling food reward behavior. Interestingly results also suggest that food reward behavior and simple intake of chow are controlled by divergent circuitry, where NAc dopamine plays an important role in food reward but not in food intake.
Acute sleep loss increases food intake in adults. However, little is known about the influence of acute sleep loss on portion size choice, and whether this depends on both hunger state and the type of food (snack or meal item) offered to an individual. The aim of the current study was to compare portion size choice after a night of sleep and a period of nocturnal wakefulness (a condition experienced by night-shift workers, e.g. physicians and nurses). Sixteen men (age: 23 ± 0.9 years, BMI: 23.6 ± 0.6 kg/m(2)) participated in a randomized within-subject design with two conditions, 8-h of sleep and total sleep deprivation (TSD). In the morning following sleep interventions, portion size, comprising meal and snack items, was measured using a computer-based task, in both fasted and sated state. In addition, hunger as well as plasma levels of ghrelin were measured. In the morning after TSD, subjects had increased plasma ghrelin levels (13%, p=0.04), and chose larger portions (14%, p=0.02), irrespective of the type of food, as compared to the sleep condition. Self-reported hunger was also enhanced (p<0.01). Following breakfast, sleep-deprived subjects chose larger portions of snacks (16%, p=0.02), whereas the selection of meal items did not differ between the sleep interventions (6%, p=0.13). Our results suggest that overeating in the morning after sleep loss is driven by both homeostatic and hedonic factors. Further, they show that portion size choice after sleep loss depend on both an individuals hunger status, and the type of food offered.
The opioid system is well recognized as an important regulator of appetite and energy balance. We now hypothesized that the hypothalamic opioid system might modulate the orexigenic effect of ghrelin. Using pharmacological and gene silencing approaches, we demonstrate that ghrelin utilizes a hypothalamic ?-opioid receptor (KOR) pathway to increase food intake in rats. Pharmacological blockade of KOR decreases the acute orexigenic effect of ghrelin. Inhibition of KOR expression in the hypothalamic arcuate nucleus is sufficient to blunt ghrelin-induced food intake. By contrast, the specific inhibition of KOR expression in the ventral tegmental area does not affect central ghrelin-induced feeding. This new pathway is independent of ghrelin-induced AMP-activated protein kinase activation, but modulates the levels of the transcription factors and orexigenic neuropeptides triggered by ghrelin to finally stimulate feeding. Our novel data implicate hypothalamic KOR signaling in the orexigenic action of ghrelin.
Glucagon-like-peptide-1 (GLP-1) is a gut- and neuro-peptide with an important role in the regulation of food intake and glucose metabolism. Interestingly, GLP-1 receptors (GLP-1R) are expressed in key mesolimbic reward areas (including the ventral tegmental area, VTA), innervated by hindbrain GLP-1 neurons. Recently GLP-1 has emerged as a potential regulator of food reward behavior, an effect driven by the mesolimbic GLP-1Rs. Its role in other reward behaviors remains largely unexplored. Since a considerable overlap has been suggested for circuitry controlling reward behavior derived from food and alcohol we hypothesized that GLP-1 and GLP-1Rs could regulate alcohol intake and alcohol reward. We sought to determine whether GLP-1 or its clinically safe stable analogue, Exendin-4, reduce alcohol intake and reward. To determine the potential role of the endogenous GLP-1 in alcohol intake we evaluated whether GLP-1R antagonist, Exendin 9-39, can increase alcohol intake. Furthermore, we set out to evaluate whether VTA GLP-1R activation is sufficient to reduce alcohol intake. Male Wistar rats injected peripherally with GLP-1 or Exendin-4 reduced their alcohol intake in an intermittent access two bottle free choice drinking model. Importantly, a contribution of endogenously released GLP-1 is highlighted by our observation that blockade of GLP-1 receptors alone resulted in an increased alcohol intake. Furthermore, GLP-1 injection reduced alcohol reward in the alcohol conditioned place preference test in mice. To evaluate the neuroanatomical substrate linking GLP-1 with alcohol intake/reward, we selectively microinjected GLP-1 or Exendin 4 into the VTA. This direct stimulation of the VTA GLP-1 receptors potently reduced alcohol intake. Our findings implicate GLP-1R signaling as a novel modulator of alcohol intake and reward. We show for the first time that VTA GLP-1R stimulation leads to reduced alcohol intake. Considering that GLP-1 analogues are already approved for clinical use, this places the GLP system as an exciting new potential therapeutic target for alcohol use disorders.
Ghrelin, a stomach-derived hormone, is an orexigenic peptide that was recently shown to potently increase food reward behavior. The neurochemical circuitry that links ghrelin to the mesolimbic system and food reward behavior remains unclear. Here we examined the contribution of neuropeptide Y (NPY) and opioids to ghrelins effects on food motivation and intake. Both systems have well-established links to the mesolimbic ventral tegmental area (VTA) and reward/motivation control. NPY mediates the effect of ghrelin on food intake via activation of NPY-Y1 receptor (NPY-Y1R); their connection with respect to motivated behavior is unexplored. The role of opioids in any aspect of ghrelins action on food-oriented behaviors is unknown. Rats were trained in a progressive ratio sucrose-induced operant schedule to measure food reward/motivation behavior. Chow intake was measured immediately after the operant test. In separate experiments, we explored the suppressive effects of a selective NPY-Y1R antagonist or opioid receptor antagonist naltrexone, injected either intracerebroventricularly or intra-VTA, on ghrelin-induced food reward behavior. The ventricular ghrelin-induced increase in sucrose-motivated behavior and chow intake were completely blocked by intracerebroventricular pretreatment with either an NPY-Y1R antagonist or naltrexone. The intra-VTA ghrelin-induced sucrose-motivated behavior was blocked only by intra-VTA naltrexone. In contrast, the intra-VTA ghrelin-stimulated chow intake was attenuated only by intra-VTA NPY-Y1 blockade. Finally, ghrelin infusion was associated with an elevated VTA ?-opioid receptor expression. Thus, we identify central NPY and opioid signaling as the necessary mediators of food intake and reward effects of ghrelin and localize these interactions to the mesolimbic VTA.
Gastrectomy (Gsx) is associated with altered emotional function and a predisposition to depression/anxiety disorders. Here we investigated the effects of Gsx on emotional reactivity in rats and explored the underlying neurobiological mechanisms. Gsx- and sham-operated rats were exposed to behavioural tests that explore anxiety- and depression-like behaviour (open field, black and white box, elevated plus maze, social interaction, forced swim) as well as memory (object recognition). The potential neurobiological mechanisms underlying these differences were explored by measuring (i) turnover of candidate neurotransmitter systems in the nucleus accumbens, (ii) hippocampal neurogenesis by BrdU labelling or by analysis of candidate genes involved in neuronal growth and (iii) changes in mRNA expression of candidate genes in dissected hippocampal and amygdala tissue. Data from individual behavioural tests as well as from multivariate analysis revealed differing emotional reactivity between Gsx- and sham-operated rats. Gsx rats showed reduced emotional reactivity in a new environment and decreased depression-like behaviour. Accumbal serotonin and dopamine turnover were both reduced in Gsx rats. Gsx also led to a memory deficit, although hippocampal neurogenesis was unaffected. Of the many candidate genes studied by real-time RT-PCR, we highlight a Gsx-associated decrease in expression of Egr-1, a transcription factor linked to neural plasticity and cognition, in the hippocampus and amygdala. Thus, Gsx induces an alteration of emotional reactivity and a memory/cognitive deficit that is associated with reduced turnover of serotonin and dopamine in the nucleus accumbens and decreased expression of Egr-1 in the hippocampus and amygdala.
Here we review the emerging neurobiological understanding of the role of the brains reward system in the regulation of body weight in health and in disease. Common obesity is characterized by the over-consumption of palatable/rewarding foods, reflecting an imbalance in the relative importance of hedonic versus homeostatic signals. The popular incentive salience theory of food reward recognises not only a hedonic/pleasure component (liking) but also an incentive motivation component (wanting or reward-seeking). Central to the neurobiology of the reward mechanism is the mesoaccumbal dopamine system that confers incentive motivation not only for natural rewards such as food but also by artificial rewards (eg. addictive drugs). Indeed, this mesoaccumbal dopamine system receives and integrates information about the incentive (rewarding) value of foods with information about metabolic status. Problematic over-eating likely reflects a changing balance in the control exerted by hypothalamic versus reward circuits and/or it could reflect an allostatic shift in the hedonic set point for food reward. Certainly, for obesity to prevail, metabolic satiety signals such as leptin and insulin fail to regain control of appetitive brain networks, including those involved in food reward. On the other hand, metabolic control could reflect increased signalling by the stomach-derived orexigenic hormone, ghrelin. We have shown that ghrelin activates the mesoaccumbal dopamine system and that central ghrelin signalling is required for reward from both chemical drugs (eg alcohol) and also from palatable food. Future therapies for problematic over-eating and obesity may include drugs that interfere with incentive motivation, such as ghrelin antagonists.
The incidence of obesity is increasing at an alarming rate and this worldwide epidemic represents a significant decrease in life span and quality of life of a large part of the affected population. Therefore an understanding of mechanisms underlying food overconsumption and obesity development is urgent and essential to find potential treatments. Research investigating mechanisms underlying obesity and the control of food intake has recently experienced a major shift in focus, from the brains hypothalamus to additional important neural circuits controlling emotion, cognition and motivated behavior. Among them, the mesolimbic system, and the changes in reward and motivated behavior for food, emerge as new promising treatment targets. Furthermore, there is also growing appreciation of the impact of peripheral hormones that signal nutrition status to the mesolimbic areas, and especially the only known circulating orexigenic hormone, ghrelin. This review article provides a synthesis of recent evidence concerning the impact of manipulation of ghrelin and its receptor on models of food reward/food motivation behavior and the mesolimbic circuitry. Particular attention is given to the potential neurocircuitry and neurotransmitter systems downstream of ghrelins effects on food reward.
The decision to eat is strongly influenced by non-homeostatic factors such as food palatability. Indeed, the rewarding and motivational value of food can override homeostatic signals, leading to increased consumption and hence, obesity. Ghrelin, a gut-derived orexigenic hormone, has a prominent role in homeostatic feeding. Recently, however, it has emerged as a potent modulator of the mesolimbic dopaminergic reward pathway, suggesting a role for ghrelin in food reward. Here, we sought to determine whether ghrelin and its receptors are important for reinforcing motivation for natural sugar reward by examining the role of ghrelin receptor (GHS-R1A) stimulation and blockade for sucrose progressive ratio operant conditioning, a procedure used to measure motivational drive to obtain a reward. Peripherally and centrally administered ghrelin significantly increased operant responding and therefore, incentive motivation for sucrose. Utilizing the GHS-R1A antagonist JMV2959, we demonstrated that blockade of GHS-R1A signaling significantly decreased operant responding for sucrose. We further investigated ghrelins effects on key mesolimbic reward nodes, the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and nucleus accumbens (NAcc), by evaluating the effects of chronic central ghrelin treatment on the expression of genes encoding major reward neurotransmitter receptors, namely dopamine and acetylcholine. Ghrelin treatment was associated with an increased dopamine receptor D5 and acetylcholine receptor nAChR?2 gene expression in the VTA and decreased expression of D1, D3, D5 and nAChR?3 in the NAcc. Our data indicate that ghrelin plays an important role in motivation and reinforcement for sucrose and impacts on the expression of dopamine and acetylcholine encoding genes in the mesolimbic reward circuitry. These findings suggest that ghrelin antagonists have therapeutic potential for the treatment of obesity and to suppress the overconsumption of sweet food.
Here we review recent advances that identify a role for the central ghrelin signalling system in reward from both natural rewards (such as food) and artificial rewards (that include alcohol and drugs of abuse). Whereas ghrelin emerged as a stomach-derived hormone involved in energy balance, hunger and meal initiation via hypothalamic circuits, it now seems clear that it also has a role in motivated reward-driven behaviours via activation of the so-called "cholinergic-dopaminergic reward link". This reward link comprises a dopamine projection from the ventral tegmental area (VTA) to the nucleus accumbens together with a cholinergic input, arising primarily from the laterodorsal tegmental area. Ghrelin administration into the VTA or LDTg activates the "cholinergic-dopaminergic" reward link, suggesting that ghrelin may increase the incentive value of motivated behaviours such as reward-seeking behaviour ("wanting" or "incentive motivation"). Further, direct injection of ghrelin into the brain ventricles or into the VTA increases the consumption of rewarding foods as well as alcohol in mice and rats. Studies in rodents show beneficial effects of ghrelin receptor (GHS-R1A) antagonists to suppress the intake of palatable food, to reduce preference for caloric foods, to suppress food reward and motivated behaviour for food. They have also been shown to reduce alcohol consumption, suppress reward induced by alcohol, cocaine and amphetamine. Furthermore, variations in the GHS-R1A and pro-ghrelin genes have been associated with high alcohol consumption, smoking and increased weight gain in alcohol dependent individuals as well as with bulimia nervosa and obesity. Thus, the central ghrelin signalling system interfaces neurobiological circuits involved in reward from food as well as chemical drugs; agents that directly or indirectly suppress this system emerge as potential candidate drugs for suppressing problematic over-eating that leads to obesity as well as for the treatment of substance use disorder.
Ghrelin, the first endogenous ligand for the type 1A growth hormone secretagogue receptor (GHS-R1A), plays a role in energy balance, feeding behavior, and reward. Previously, we showed that pharmacologic and genetic suppression of the GHS-R1A attenuates the alcohol-induced stimulation, accumbal dopamine release, and conditioned place preference as well as alcohol consumption in mice, implying that the GHS-R1A is required for alcohol reward. The present study further elucidates the role of ghrelin for alcohol-induced dopamine release in nucleus accumbens and locomotor stimulation by means of ghrelin knockout mice. We found that the ability of alcohol to increase accumbal dopamine release in wild-type mice is not observed in ghrelin knockout mice. Furthermore, alcohol induced a locomotor stimulation in the wild-type mice and ghrelin knockout mice; however, the locomotor stimulation in homozygote mice was significantly lower than in the wild-type mice. The present series of experiments suggest that endogenous ghrelin may be required for the ability of alcohol to activate the mesolimbic dopamine system.
Recently we demonstrated that genetic or pharmacological suppression of the central ghrelin signaling system, involving the growth hormone secretagogue receptor 1A (GHS-R1A), lead to a reduced reward profile from alcohol. As the target circuits for ghrelin in the brain include a mesolimbic reward pathway that is intimately associated with reward-seeking behaviour, we sought to determine whether the central ghrelin signaling system is required for reward from drugs of abuse other than alcohol, namely cocaine or amphetamine.
We investigated whether ghrelin action at the level of the ventral tegmental area (VTA), a key node in the mesolimbic reward system, is important for the rewarding and motivational aspects of the consumption of rewarding/palatable food. Mice with a disrupted gene encoding the ghrelin receptor (GHS-R1A) and rats treated peripherally with a GHS-R1A antagonist both show suppressed intake of rewarding food in a free choice (chow/rewarding food) paradigm. Moreover, accumbal dopamine release induced by rewarding food was absent in GHS-R1A knockout mice. Acute bilateral intra-VTA administration of ghrelin increased 1-hour consumption of rewarding food but not standard chow. In comparison with sham rats, VTA-lesioned rats had normal intracerebroventricular ghrelin-induced chow intake, although both intake of and time spent exploring rewarding food was decreased. Finally, the ability of rewarding food to condition a place preference was suppressed by the GHS-R1A antagonist in rats. Our data support the hypothesis that central ghrelin signaling at the level of the VTA is important for the incentive value of rewarding food.
To investigate the role of the central neuromedin U (NMU) signaling system in body weight and energy balance regulation, we examined the effects of long-term intracerebroventricular (icv) infusion of NMU in C57Bl/6 mice and in mice lacking the gene encoding NMU receptor 2. In diet-induced obese male and female C57BL/6 mice, icv infusion of NMU (8 microg x day(-1) x mouse(-1)) for 7 days decreased body weight and total energy intake compared with vehicle treatment. However, these parameters were unaffected by NMU treatment in lean male and female C57BL/6 mice fed a standard diet. In addition, female (but not male) NMUR2-null mice had increased body weight and body fat mass when fed a high-fat diet but lacked a clear body weight phenotype when fed a standard diet compared with wild-type littermates. Furthermore, female (but not male) NMUR2-null mice fed a high-fat diet were protected from central NMU-induced body weight loss compared with littermate wild-type mice. Thus, we provide the first evidence that long-term central NMU treatment reduces body weight, food intake, and adiposity and that central NMUR2 signaling is required for these effects in female but not male mice.
The stomach-derived hormone ghrelin interacts with key CNS circuits regulating energy balance and body weight. Here we provide evidence that the central ghrelin signaling system is required for alcohol reward. Central ghrelin administration (to brain ventricles or to tegmental areas involved in reward) increased alcohol intake in a 2-bottle (alcohol/water) free choice limited access paradigm in mice. By contrast, central or peripheral administration of ghrelin receptor (GHS-R1A) antagonists suppressed alcohol intake in this model. Alcohol-induced locomotor stimulation, accumbal dopamine release and conditioned place preference were abolished in models of suppressed central ghrelin signaling: GHS-R1A knockout mice and mice treated with 2 different GHS-R1A antagonists. Thus, central ghrelin signaling, via GHS-R1A, not only stimulates the reward system, but is also required for stimulation of that system by alcohol. Our data suggest that central ghrelin signaling constitutes a potential target for treatment of alcohol-related disorders.
Here we provide the first pharmacological exploration of the impact of acute central nervous system exposure to three recently developed ghrelin receptor (GHS-R1A) ligands on food intake and on the electrical activity of the target cells for ghrelin in the hypothalamus. Central (i.c.v) injection of GHS-R1A antagonists to rats suppressed food intake induced by i.c.v ghrelin injection (1 microg) in a dose-dependent manner with a total blockade at concentrations of 0.4 microg and 8 microg for JMV 3002 and JMV 2959 respectively. JMV 2810, a partial agonist, also suppressed ghrelin-induced food intake (range: 0.02-2 microg). Moreover all three compounds reduced fasting-induced food intake in rats (i.e. the amount of food eaten during the first hour of food exposure after a 16 h fast). At the single cell level we also explored the effects of the compounds to suppress ghrelin (0.5 microM)-induced changes in electrical activity of arcuate nucleus cells recorded extracellularly in a slice preparation. Preincubation followed by perfusion with the GHS-R1A ligands suppressed the responsiveness of arcuate cells to ghrelin. Thus, the recently developed GHS-R1A ligands (JMV 3002, 2959 and 2810) suppress ghrelin-induced and fasting-induced food intake at the level of the central nervous system. This appears to be mediated, at least in part, by a modulation of the activity of ghrelin-responsive arcuate nucleus cells. As the central ghrelin signalling system has emerged as an important pro-obesity target, it will be important to establish the efficacy of these GHS-R1A ligands to reduce fat mass in clinical studies.
Recent discoveries indicate an important role for ghrelin in drug and alcohol reward and an ability of ghrelin to regulate mesolimbic dopamine activity. The role of dopamine in novelty seeking, and the association between this trait and drug and alcohol abuse, led us to hypothesize that ghrelin may influence novelty seeking behavior. To test this possibility we applied several complementary rodent models of novelty seeking behavior, i.e. inescapable novelty-induced locomotor activity (NILA), novelty-induced place preference and novel object exploration, in rats subjected to acute ghrelin receptor (growth hormone secretagogue receptor; GHSR) stimulation or blockade. Furthermore we assessed the possible association between polymorphisms in the genes encoding ghrelin and GHSR and novelty seeking behavior in humans. The rodent studies indicate an important role for ghrelin in a wide range of novelty seeking behaviors. Ghrelin-injected rats exhibited a higher preference for a novel environment and increased novel object exploration. Conversely, those with GHSR blockade drastically reduced their preference for a novel environment and displayed decreased NILA. Importantly, the mesolimbic ventral tegmental area selective GHSR blockade was sufficient to reduce the NILA response indicating that the mesolimbic GHSRs might play an important role in the observed novelty responses. Moreover, in untreated animals, a striking positive correlation between NILA and sucrose reward behavior was detected. Two GHSR single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), rs2948694 and rs495225, were significantly associated with the personality trait novelty seeking, as assessed using the Temperament and Character Inventory (TCI), in human subjects. This study provides the first evidence for a role of ghrelin in novelty seeking behavior in animals and humans, and also points to an association between food reward and novelty seeking in rodents.
The aim of the study was to investigate whether polymorphisms in the preproghrelin gene are associated with anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder, in humans. Panic disorder is a severe anxiety disorder, characterized by sudden attacks of intense fear or anxiety in combination with somatic symptoms. The preproghrelin gene codes for two gut-derived circulating peptides that have been linked to anxiety-like behaviour in rodents: ghrelin (an orexigenic, pro-obesity hormone) and obestatin. In the present study, we genotyped three missense mutations in the preproghrelin gene in 215 patients suffering from panic disorder and in 451 controls. The A allele of the rs4684677 polymorphism was significantly associated with panic disorder, while there were no significant associations with the two other polymorphisms studied. We conclude that the rs4684677 (Gln90Leu) polymorphism in the preproghrelin gene may be associated with increased risk of panic disorder. It will be important to confirm these findings in additional panic disorder patient groups.
Here, we sought to demonstrate that the orexigenic circulating hormone, ghrelin, is able to exert neurobiological effects (including those linked to feeding control) at the level of the amygdala, involving neuroanatomical, electrophysiological and behavioural studies. We found that ghrelin receptors (GHS-R) are densely expressed in several subnuclei of the amygdala, notably in ventrolateral (LaVL) and ventromedial (LaVM) parts of the lateral amygdaloid nucleus. Using whole-cell patch clamp electrophysiology to record from cells in the lateral amygdaloid nucleus, we found that ghrelin reduced the frequency of mEPSCs recorded from large pyramidal-like neurons, an effect that could be blocked by co-application of a ghrelin receptor antagonist. In ad libitum fed rats, intra-amygdala administration of ghrelin produced a large orexigenic response that lasted throughout the 4 hr of testing. Conversely, in hungry, fasted rats ghrelin receptor blockade in the amygdala significantly reduced food intake. Finally, we investigated a possible interaction between ghrelins effects on feeding control and emotional reactivity exerted at the level of the amygdala. In rats allowed to feed during a 1-hour period between ghrelin injection and anxiety testing (elevated plus maze and open field), intra-amygdala ghrelin had no effect on anxiety-like behavior. By contrast, if the rats were not given access to food during this 1-hour period, a decrease in anxiety-like behavior was observed in both tests. Collectively, these data indicate that the amygdala is a valid target brain area for ghrelin where its neurobiological effects are important for food intake and for the suppression of emotional (anxiety-like) behaviors if food is not available.
The glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) system is a recently established target for type 2 diabetes treatment. In addition to regulating glucose homeostasis, GLP-1 also reduces food intake. Previous studies demonstrate that the anorexigenic effects of GLP-1 can be mediated through hypothalamic and brainstem circuits which regulate homeostatic feeding. Here, we demonstrate an entirely novel neurobiological mechanism for GLP-1-induced anorexia in rats, involving direct effects of a GLP-1 agonist, Exendin-4 (EX4) on food reward that are exerted at the level of the mesolimbic reward system. We assessed the impact of peripheral, central, and intramesolimbic EX4 on two models of food reward: conditioned place preference (CPP) and progressive ratio operant-conditioning. Food-reward behavior was reduced in the CPP test by EX4, as rats no longer preferred an environment previously paired to chocolate pellets. EX4 also decreased motivated behavior for sucrose in a progressive ratio operant-conditioning paradigm when administered peripherally. We show that this effect is mediated centrally, via GLP-1 receptors (GLP-1Rs). GLP-1Rs are expressed in several key nodes of the mesolimbic reward system; however, their function remains unexplored. Thus we sought to determine the neurobiological substrates underlying the food-reward effect. We found that the EX4-mediated inhibition of food reward could be driven from two key mesolimbic structures-ventral tegmental area and nucleus accumbens-without inducing concurrent malaise or locomotor impairment. The current findings, that activation of central GLP-1Rs strikingly suppresses food reward/motivation by interacting with the mesolimbic system, indicate an entirely novel mechanism by which the GLP-1R stimulation affects feeding-oriented behavior.
Mutation of the melanocortin-receptor 4 (MC4R) is the most frequent cause of severe obesity in humans. Binding of agouti-related peptide (AgRP) to MC4R involves the co-receptor syndecan-3, a heparan sulfate proteoglycan. The proteoglycan can be structurally modified by the enzyme heparanase. Here we tested the hypothesis that heparanase plays a role in food intake behaviour and energy balance regulation by analysing body weight, body composition and food intake in genetically modified mice that either lack or overexpress heparanase. We also assessed food intake and body weight following acute central intracerebroventricular administration of heparanase; such treatment reduced food intake in wildtype mice, an effect that was abolished in mice lacking MC4R. By contrast, heparanase knockout mice on a high-fat diet showed increased food intake and maturity-onset obesity, with up to a 40% increase in body fat. Mice overexpressing heparanase displayed essentially the opposite phenotypes, with a reduced fat mass. These results implicate heparanase in energy balance control via the central melanocortin system. Our data indicate that heparanase acts as a negative modulator of AgRP signaling at MC4R, through cleavage of heparan sulfate chains presumably linked to syndecan-3.
Ghrelin is the only known circulating orexigenic hormone. It increases food intake by interacting with hypothalamic and brainstem circuits involved in energy balance, as well as reward-related brain areas. A heightened gut-brain ghrelin axis is an emerging feature of certain eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and Prader-Willi syndrome. In common obesity, ghrelin levels are lowered, whereas post-meal ghrelin levels remain higher than in lean individuals. Agents that interfere with ghrelin signalling have therapeutic potential for eating disorders, including obesity. However, most of these drugs are only in the preclinical phase of development. Data obtained so far suggest that ghrelin agonists may have potential in the treatment of anorexia nervosa, while ghrelin antagonists seem promising for other eating disorders such as obesity and Prader-Willi syndrome. However, large clinical trials are needed to evaluate the efficacy and safety of these drugs.
Food anticipatory activity (FAA) is displayed in rats when access to food is restricted to a specific time frame of their circadian phase, a behavior thought to reflect both hunger and the motivation to eat. Rats also display FAA in a feeding schedule with ad libitum access to normal chow, but limited availability of a palatable meal, which is thought to involve mainly motivational aspects. The orexigenic hormone ghrelin has been implicated in FAA in rodents with restricted access to chow. Because ghrelin plays an important role not only in the control of food intake, but also in reward, we sought to determine the role of ghrelin in anticipation to a palatable meal. Plasma ghrelin levels of non-restricted rats that anticipated chocolate correlated positively with FAA and were increased compared with chow-fed control rats. Furthermore, centrally injected ghrelin increased, whereas an antagonist of the ghrelin receptor decreased, the anticipation to chocolate. Therefore, we hypothesize that central ghrelin signaling is able to mediate the motivational drive to eat.
The pleasure derived from eating may feel like a simple emotion, but the decision to eat, and perhaps more importantly what to eat, involves central pathways linking energy homeostasis and reward and their regulation by metabolic and endocrine factors. Evidence is mounting that modulation of the hedonic aspects of energy balance is under the control of peripheral neuropeptides conventionally associated with homeostatic appetite control. Here, we describe the significance of reward in feeding, the neural substrates underlying the reward pathway and their modification by peptides released into the circulation from peripheral tissues.
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