, Volume 32, Issue 10, pp 1772-1782
Date: 25 Aug 2007

Food Reward-Induced Neurotransmitter Changes in Cognitive Brain Regions

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Abstract

Recent evidence indicates that mechanisms involved in reward and mechanisms involved in learning interact, in that reward includes learning processes and learning includes reward processes. In spite of such interactions, reward and learning represent distinct functions. In the present study, as part of an examination of the differences in learning and reward mechanisms, it was assumed that food principally affects reward mechanisms. After a brief period of fasting, we assayed the release of three neurotransmitters and their associated metabolites in eight brain areas associated with learning and memory as a response to feeding. Using microdialysis for the assay, we found changes in the hippocampus, cortex, amygdala, and the thalamic nucleus, (considered cognitive areas), in addition to those in the nucleus accumbens and ventral tegmental area (considered reward areas). Extracellular dopamine levels increased in the nucleus accumbens, ventral tegmental area, amygdala, and thalamic nucleus, while they decreased in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. Dopamine metabolites increased in all areas tested (except the dorsal hippocampus); changes in norepinephrine varied with decreases in the accumbens, dorsal hippocampus, amygdala, and thalamic nucleus, and increases in the prefrontal cortex; serotonin levels decreased in all the areas tested; although its metabolite 5HIAA increased in two regions (the medial temporal cortex, and thalamic nucleus). Our assays indicate that in reward activities such as feeding, in addition to areas usually associated with reward such as the mesolimbic dopamine system, other areas associated with cognition also participate. Results also indicate that several transmitter systems play a part, with several neurotransmitters and several receptors involved in the response to food in a number of brain structures, and the changes in transmitter levels may be affected by metabolism and transport in addition to changes in release in a regionally heterogeneous manner. Food reward represents a complex pattern of changes in the brain that involve cognitive processes. Although food reward elements overlap with other reward systems sharing some neurotransmitter compounds, it significantly differs indicating a specific reward to process for food consumption. Like in other rewards, both learning and cognitive areas play a significant part in food reward.

Special issue dedicated to Dr. Moussa Youdim.