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Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 1995 Spring;19(1):121-31.

Benzodiazepines, appetite, and taste palatability.

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Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor 48104-1687, USA.


Benzodiazepine agonists stimulate feeding in animals. This paper reviews evidence which indicates that benzodiazepine-induced feeding is due to a specific enhancement of the perceived palatability of food and fluids, and is not a mere secondary consequence of anxiety reduction. In studies of the effect of benzodiazepines on affective reactions that are naturally elicited from rats by tastes, we have shown that (a) benzodiazepines enhance hedonic taste palatability in a receptor-specific fashion; (b) the relevant receptors and the minimal neural circuitry required to mediate benzodiazepine-induced palatability enhancement both exist complete in the decerebrate brain stem; and (c) even in normal brains, receptors in the brain stem, not forebrain, are the primary substrate for the benzodiazepine-induced enhancement of taste palatability. We conclude that a 'benzodiazepine-GABA' neural system in the brain stem constitutes an important component of the neural hierarchy responsible for taste pleasure. The reason why benzodiazepine tranquilizers have not been reported to enhance palatability for humans may be that the appropriate studies have not yet been done, that human doses are low, and that the brain stem palatability system is less responsive to commonly prescribed agonists that are anxiety/arousal benzodiazepine systems. Finally, in keeping with the purpose of the symposium in which this paper was originally presented, we discuss a number of issues regarding the measurement and interpretation of taste reactivity data.

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