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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2010 Jun;35(5):717-28. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2009.10.013. Epub 2009 Nov 25.

Palatable cafeteria diet ameliorates anxiety and depression-like symptoms following an adverse early environment.

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  • 1School of Medical Sciences, University of New South Wales, NSW 2052, Australia.


Early trauma contributes to psychosocial disorders later in life. An adverse early environment induced by maternal separation (MS) is known to alter behavioural and stress responses in rats. Palatable food dampens stress responses. We investigated the influence of palatable cafeteria high-fat diet (HFD) on behavioural responses following MS or non-handling (NH), versus 15min brief separation. After littering, Sprague-Dawley rats were exposed to short separation, S15 (15min), prolonged separation, S180 (180min) daily from postnatal days 2 to 14 or were non-handled. Pups were assigned to HFD or chow at weaning. We assessed depression and anxiety-like behaviour with sucrose preference test (SPT) and elevated plus maze (EPM) respectively, and measured hypothalamic CRH and hippocampal glucocorticoid receptor (GR) expression. S180 rats showed increased anxiety-and depression-like behaviours, with increased plasma corticosterone, hypothalamic CRH, and reduced hippocampal GR expression versus S15 rats. Similar effects were observed across gender. These were normalized by provision of HFD, with greater beneficial effects in males. S15 showed no benefit of HFD. NH female rats had less adverse impacts; HFD had beneficial impact on behaviour in NH males. Thus behavioural deficits and gene expression changes induced by early life stress were ameliorated by HFD. These results highlight the important place of palatable food in reducing central stress responses supporting the therapeutic value of 'comfort food'.

Crown Copyright 2009. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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