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      Ghrelin regulates phasic dopamine and nucleus accumbens signaling evoked by food-predictive stimuli.

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          Environmental stimuli that signal food availability hold powerful sway over motivated behavior and promote feeding, in part, by activating the mesolimbic system. These food-predictive cues evoke brief (phasic) changes in nucleus accumbens (NAc) dopamine concentration and in the activity of individual NAc neurons. Phasic fluctuations in mesolimbic signaling have been directly linked to goal-directed behaviors, including behaviors elicited by food-predictive cues. Food-seeking behavior is also strongly influenced by physiological state (i.e., hunger vs. satiety). Ghrelin, a stomach hormone that crosses the blood-brain barrier, is linked to the perception of hunger and drives food intake, including intake potentiated by environmental cues. Notwithstanding, whether ghrelin regulates phasic mesolimbic signaling evoked by food-predictive stimuli is unknown. Here, rats underwent Pavlovian conditioning in which one cue predicted the delivery of rewarding food (CS+) and a second cue predicted nothing (CS-). After training, we measured the effect of ghrelin infused into the lateral ventricle (LV) on sub-second fluctuations in NAc dopamine using fast-scan cyclic voltammetry and individual NAc neuron activity using in vivo electrophysiology in separate groups of rats. LV ghrelin augmented both phasic dopamine and phasic increases in the activity of NAc neurons evoked by the CS+. Importantly, ghrelin did not affect the dopamine nor NAc neuron response to the CS-, suggesting that ghrelin selectively modulated mesolimbic signaling evoked by motivationally significant stimuli. These data demonstrate that ghrelin, a hunger signal linked to physiological state, can regulate cue-evoked mesolimbic signals that underlie food-directed behaviors. Cues that predict food availability powerfully regulate food-seeking behavior. Here we show that cue-evoked changes in both nucleus accumbens (NAc) dopamine (DA) and NAc cell activity are modulated by intra-cranial infusions of the stomach hormone ghrelin--a hormone known to act centrally to promote food intake. These data demonstrate that hormones associated with physiological state (i.e., hunger) can affect encoding of food-predictive cues in brain regions that drive food-motivated behavior.

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          Author and article information

          J. Neurochem.
          Journal of neurochemistry
          Jun 2015
          : 133
          : 6
          [1 ] Graduate Program in Neuroscience, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
          [2 ] Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
          © 2015 International Society for Neurochemistry.


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