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Prog Neurobiol. 2009 Sep;89(1):18-45. doi: 10.1016/j.pneurobio.2009.05.003. Epub 2009 Jun 2.

The neuropharmacology of relapse to food seeking: methodology, main findings, and comparison with relapse to drug seeking.

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Behavioral Neuroscience Branch, NIDA/IRP, 251 Bayview Boulevard, Baltimore, MD 21224, USA.


Relapse to old, unhealthy eating habits is a major problem in human dietary treatments. The mechanisms underlying this relapse are unknown. Surprisingly, until recently this clinical problem has not been systematically studied in animal models. Here, we review results from recent studies in which a reinstatement model (commonly used to study relapse to abused drugs) was employed to characterize the effect of pharmacological agents on relapse to food seeking induced by either food priming (non-contingent exposure to small amounts of food), cues previously associated with food, or injections of the pharmacological stressor yohimbine. We also address methodological issues related to the use of the reinstatement model to study relapse to food seeking, similarities and differences in mechanisms underlying reinstatement of food seeking versus drug seeking, and the degree to which the reinstatement procedure provides a suitable model for studying relapse in humans. We conclude by discussing implications for medication development and future research. We offer three tentative conclusions: (1)The neuronal mechanisms of food-priming- and cue-induced reinstatement are likely different from those of reinstatement induced by the pharmacological stressor yohimbine. (2)The neuronal mechanisms of reinstatement of food seeking are possibly different from those of ongoing food-reinforced operant responding. (3)The neuronal mechanisms underlying reinstatement of food seeking overlap to some degree with those of reinstatement of drug seeking.

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