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Physiol Behav. 2009 Mar 23;96(4-5):651-61. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2008.12.018. Epub 2008 Dec 31.

An unexpected reduction in sucrose concentration activates the HPA axis on successive post shift days without attenuation by discriminative contextual stimuli.

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University of California, San Francisco, Department of Physiology, School of Medicine, 415 Parnassus Ave., Box 0444, San Francisco, CA 94143 0444, United States.


Previous studies have shown that the successive negative contrast procedure, in which food-restricted rats entrained to once daily, brief presentations of 32% sucrose are unexpectedly shifted to a 4% solution, results in an adrenocortical response on the second, but not the first postshift day. We attempted to generalize that finding in our own procedure. In Experiment 1, two groups of rats were given a 32% sucrose solution once daily in their home cages for 14 days before being shifted to a 4% solution. One group was killed 10 min after the first 4% solution and one was killed after the second 4% solution. In addition, two groups receiving either 32% or 4% sucrose throughout the experiment served as unshifted controls. In contrast to previous findings, both shifted groups exhibited prominent adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH) and adrenocortical (B) responses on both postshift days compared to unshifted controls, which did not differ from one another. Experiment 2a employed distinctive contexts to test if the lack of generality of the delayed HPA axis response was due to suppressive effects of S(+) on the first postshift day. Rats were given once daily 32% sucrose in S(+) and equal exposure time in S(-). Half of these rats were shifted to 4% sucrose in S(+) and half were shifted in S(-). These two groups were compared to home cage controls. Half of each group was killed after their first 4% sucrose, and half after the second 4% sucrose. All rats showed ACTH and B responses comparable to shifted rats in Experiment 1. S(+) failed to suppress the HPA axis, and the stress response was higher on the first compared to the second day of the shift. Experiment 2b established that distinctive contexts predicting sucrose, S(+), or not predicting sucrose, S(-), controlled behavioral choice and contextual discrimination. Thus, there was no evidence that issues of stimulus control could explain the lack of generality of previous findings. The data indicate that thwarting sucrose expectancies is stressful, and that this stress response habituates across days.

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