Central oxytocin (OT) promotes feeding termination in response to homeostatic challenges, such as excessive stomach distension, salt loading and toxicity. OT has also been proposed to affect feeding reward by decreasing the consumption of palatable carbohydrates and sweet tastants. Because the OT receptor (OTR) is expressed in the nucleus accumbens core (AcbC) and shell (AcbSh), a site regulating diverse aspects of eating behaviour, we investigated whether OT acts there to affect appetite in rats. First, we examined whether direct AcbC and AcbSh OT injections affect hunger- and palatability-driven consumption. We found that only AcbC OT infusions decrease deprivation-induced chow intake and reduce the consumption of palatable sucrose and saccharin solutions in nondeprived animals. These effects were abolished by pretreatment with an OTR antagonist, L-368,899, injected in the same site. AcbC OT at an anorexigenic dose did not induce a conditioned taste aversion, which indicates that AcbC OT-driven anorexia is not caused by sickness/malaise. The appetite-specific effect of AcbC OT is supported by the real-time polymerase chain reaction analysis of OTR mRNA in the AcbC, which revealed that food deprivation elevates OTR mRNA expression, whereas saccharin solution intake decreases OTR transcript levels. We also used c-Fos immunohistochemistry as a marker of neuronal activation and found that AcbC OT injection increases activation of the AcbC itself, as well as of two feeding-related sites: the hypothalamic paraventricular and supraoptic nuclei. Finally, considering the fact that OT plays a significant role in social behaviour, we examined whether offering animals a meal in a social setting would modify their hypophagic response to AcbC OT injections. We found that a social context abolishes the anorexigenic effects of AcbC OT. We conclude that OT acting via the AcbC decreases food intake driven by hunger and reward in rats offered a meal in a nonsocial setting.
- Food intake