Preliminary evidence of sex differences in behavioral and neural responses to palatable food reward in rats

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Physiology and Behavior



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The female bias in eating disorder prevalence is the largest in all of psychiatry. Binge eating on palatable food (PF) is a core, maladaptive symptom that cuts across all major types of eating disorders and can be studied via animal models. Using an individual differences rat model of binge eating that identifies binge eating prone (BEP) and binge eating resistant (BER) phenotypes, we previously showed that, compared with males, females consume more PF and are more likely to be classified as BEP. One potential explanation for this sex difference is that PF is inherently more rewarding to females, leading to higher rates of binge eating. Here we tested the hypothesis that females have more robust behavioral and neural responses to PF reward than males. Adult male (N = 18) and female (N = 17) Sprague-Dawley rats were exposed to the Conditioned Place Preference paradigm using PF as the unconditioned stimulus. Select males (N = 9) and females (N = 9) were video-recorded during three of the PF-paired conditioning sessions to score feeding behavior. Following CPP, 13 male and 12 female rats were exposed to PF just prior to sacrifice to induce expression of the neural activation marker Fos, and Fos expression was quantified in mesocorticolimbic, hypothalamic, and amygdalar circuits. In the CPP paradigm, females displayed a more robust shift in preference for the chamber paired with PF compared with males, and behavioral analyses revealed that average duration of individual feeding bouts during pairing sessions was longer in females than in males. Fos expression was significantly higher in females vs. males in select regions of the mesocorticolimbic reward circuit, with no sex differences in hypothalamic or amygdalar regions. These results provide initial evidence that PF may be more rewarding to females than to males, possibly due to heightened responsiveness of neural substrates that mediate the hedonic and motivational responses to PF, which in part, may underlie sex differences in binge eating proneness. © 2017 Elsevier Inc.



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