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Biol Psychiatry. 2012 Feb 15;71(4):358-65. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2011.06.028.

Gene profiling reveals a role for stress hormones in the molecular and behavioral response to food restriction.

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Division of Molecular Psychiatry, Ribicoff Research Facilities, Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, 34 Park Street, New Haven, CT 06508, USA.



Food restriction is known to enhance learning and motivation. The neural mechanisms underlying these responses likely involve alterations in gene expression in brain regions mediating the motivation to feed.


Analysis of gene expression profiles in male C57BL/6J mice using whole-genome microarrays was completed in the medial prefrontal cortex, nucleus accumbens, ventral tegmental area, and the hypothalamus following a 5-day food restriction. Quantitative polymerase chain reaction was used to validate these findings and determine the time course of expression changes. Plasma levels of the stress hormone corticosterone (CORT) were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Expression changes were measured in adrenalectomized animals that underwent food restriction, as well as in animals receiving daily injections of CORT. Progressive ratio responding for food, a measure of motivated behavior, was assessed after CORT treatment in restricted and fed animals.


Brief food restriction results in an upregulation of peripheral stress responsive genes in the mammalian brain. Time-course analysis demonstrated rapid and persistent expression changes in all four brain regions under study. Administration of CORT to nonrestricted animals was sufficient to induce a subset of the genes, and alterations in gene expression after food restriction were dependent on intact adrenal glands. CORT can increase the motivation to work for food only in the restricted state.


These data demonstrate a central role for CORT in mediating both molecular and behavioral responses to food restriction. The stress hormone-induced alterations in gene expression described here may be relevant for both adaptive and pathological responses to stress.

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