Author(s): Kelley AE, Bakshi VP, Haber SN, Steininger TL, Will MJ,
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Abstract There is a long-standing interest in the role of endogenous opioid peptides in feeding behavior and, in particular, in the modulation of food reward and palatability. Since drugs such as heroin, morphine, alcohol, and cannabinoids, interact with this system, there may be important common neural substrates between food and drug reward with regard to the brain's opioid systems. In this paper, we review the proposed functional role of opioid neurotransmission and mu opiate receptors within the nucleus accumbens and surrounding ventral striatum. Opioid compounds, particularly those selective for the mu receptor, induce a potent increase in food intake, sucrose, salt, saccharin, and ethanol intake. We have explored this phenomenon with regard to macronutrient selection, regional specificity, role of output structures, Fos mapping, analysis of motivational state, and enkephalin gene expression. We hypothesize that opioid-mediated mechanisms within ventral striatal medium spiny neurons mediate the affective or hedonic response to food ('liking' or food 'pleasure'). A further refinement of this hypothesis is that activation of ventral striatal opioids specifically encodes positive affect induced by tasty and/or calorically dense foods (such as sugar and fat), and promotes behaviors associated with this enhanced palatability. It is proposed that this brain mechanism was beneficial in evolutionary development for ensuring the consumption of relatively scarce, high-energy food sources. However, in modern times, with unlimited supplies of high-calorie food, it has contributed to the present epidemic of obesity.
This article was published in Physiol Behav
and referenced in Journal of Genetic Syndromes & Gene Therapy