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Physiol Behav. 2011 Apr 18;103(1):111-6. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2011.01.015. Epub 2011 Jan 22.

"Snacking" causes long term attenuation of HPA axis stress responses and enhancement of brain FosB/deltaFosB expression in rats.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, University of Cincinnati, 2170 East Galbraith Road, Cincinnati, OH 45237, USA.


A history of limited, intermittent intake of palatable food (sucrose drink) attenuates hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis stress responses and induces markers of neuronal plasticity in stress- and reward-regulatory brain regions. Synaptic plasticity could provide a mechanism for long-term changes in neuronal function, implying that sucrose stress-dampening may endure over long periods of time. The present study tests the persistence of HPA axis dampening and plasticity after cessation of palatable drinking. Adult, male Long-Evans rats (n=10-13) with free access to water and chow were given additional twice-daily access to 4ml sucrose (30%) or water for 14days. Rats were subsequently tested for HPA responsiveness to an acute (20min) restraint stress at 1, 6 and 21days after the cessation of sucrose. Brains were collected for immunohistochemical analysis of FosB/deltaFosB, a marker of long-term neuronal plasticity, in the basolateral amygdala (BLA) and nucleus accumbens (NuAc). Prior sucrose consumption significantly decreased the plasma corticosterone response to restraint at 1day after the last palatable drink presentation, and also increased FosB/deltaFosB-positive cells in the BLA and in the NuAc core. This HPA-dampening persisted through 21days after the termination of the palatable drink, as did the increased FosB/deltaFosB immunoreactivity in both the BLA and the NuAc core. These data suggest that chronic palatable food intake causes lasting changes in stress/reward-modulatory circuitry and that the suppressed hormonal response to stress that can persist well beyond periods of palatable drink exposure.

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