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Neuroscience. 2011 Nov 24;196:80-96. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2011.09.004. Epub 2011 Sep 10.

A food predictive cue must be attributed with incentive salience for it to induce c-fos mRNA expression in cortico-striatal-thalamic brain regions.

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1
Department of Psychiatry, University of Michigan, AnnArbor, MI 48109, USA. sflagel@umich.edu

Abstract

Cues associated with rewards acquire the ability to engage the same brain systems as rewards themselves. However, reward cues have multiple properties. For example, they not only act as predictors of reward capable of evoking conditional responses (CRs), but they may also acquire incentive motivational properties. As incentive stimuli they can evoke complex emotional and motivational states. Here we sought to determine whether the predictive value of a reward cue is sufficient to engage brain reward systems, or whether the cue must also be attributed with incentive salience. We took advantage of the fact that there are large individual differences in the extent to which reward cues are attributed with incentive salience. When a cue (conditional stimulus, CS) is paired with delivery of food (unconditional stimulus, US), the cue acquires the ability to evoke a CR in all rats; that is, it is equally predictive and supports learning the CS-US association in all. However, only in a subset of rats is the cue attributed with incentive salience, becoming an attractive and desirable incentive stimulus. We used in situ hybridization histochemistry to quantify the ability of a food cue to induce c-fos mRNA expression in rats that varied in the extent to which they attributed incentive salience to the cue. We found that a food cue induced c-fos mRNA in the orbitofrontal cortex, striatum (caudate and nucleus accumbens), thalamus (paraventricular, intermediodorsal and central medial nuclei), and lateral habenula, only in rats that attributed incentive salience to the cue. Furthermore, patterns of "connectivity" between these brain regions differed markedly between rats that did or did not attribute incentive salience to the food cue. These data suggest that the predictive value of a reward cue is not sufficient to engage brain reward systems-the cue must also be attributed with incentive salience.

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