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Neuroscience. 2018 Aug 1;384:224-240. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2018.05.030. Epub 2018 May 28.

Palatable Food Affects HPA Axis Responsivity and Forebrain Neurocircuitry in an Estrous Cycle-specific Manner in Female Rats.

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Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, College of Medicine, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH 45237, USA.
Alzheimer's Therapeutic Research Institute, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, San Diego, CA 92121, USA.
Department of Mathematical Sciences, McMicken College of Arts and Sciences, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH 45221, USA.
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, College of Medicine, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH 45237, USA. Electronic address:


Eating palatable foods can provide stress relief, but the mechanisms by which this occurs are unclear. We previously characterized a limited sucrose intake (LSI) paradigm in which twice-daily access to a small amount of 30% sucrose (vs. water as a control) reduces hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis responses to stress and alters neuronal activation in stress-regulatory brain regions in male rats. However, women may be more prone to 'comfort feeding' behaviors than men, and stress-related eating may vary across the menstrual cycle. This suggests that LSI effects may be sex- and estrous cycle-dependent. The present study therefore investigated the effects of LSI on HPA axis stress responsivity, as well as markers of neuronal activation/plasticity in stress- and reward-related neurocircuitry in female rats across the estrous cycle. We found that LSI reduced post-restraint stress plasma ACTH in female rats specifically during proestrus/estrus (P/E). LSI also increased basal (non-stress) FosB/deltaFosB- and pCREB-immunolabeling in the basolateral amygdala (BLA) and central amygdala specifically during P/E. Finally, Bayesian network modeling of the FosB/deltaFosB and pCREB expression data identified a neurocircuit that includes the BLA, nucleus accumbens, prefrontal cortex, and bed nucleus of the stria terminalis as likely being modified by LSI during P/E. When considered in the context of our prior results, the present findings suggest that palatable food reduces stress responses in female rats similar to males, but in an estrous cycle-dependent manner. Further, the BLA may contribute to the LSI effects in both sexes, whereas the involvement of other brain regions appears to be sex-dependent.


ACTH; basolateral amygdala; corticosterone; nucleus accumbens; sex differences; sucrose

[Available on 2019-08-01]
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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