Long term voluntary wheel running is rewarding and produces plasticity in the mesolimbic reward pathway. (2010)

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Behav Brain Res. 2011 Mar 1;217(2):354-62. Epub 2010 Nov 9.

Greenwood BN, Foley TE, Le TV, Strong PV, Loughridge AB, Day HE, Fleshner M.

Department of Integrative Physiology, Center for Neuroscience, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA. Ben.Greenwood@Colorado.ed

Abstract

The mesolimbic reward pathway is implicated in stress-related psychiatric disorders and is a potential target of plasticity underlying the stress resistance produced by repeated voluntary exercise. It is unknown, however, whether rats find long-term access to running wheels rewarding, or if repeated voluntary exercise reward produces plastic changes in mesolimbic reward neurocircuitry. In the current studies, young adult, male Fischer 344 rats allowed voluntary access to running wheels for 6 weeks, but not 2 weeks, found wheel running rewarding, as measured by conditioned place preference (CPP). Consistent with prior reports and the behavioral data, 6 weeks of wheel running increased ΔFosB/FosB immunoreactivity in the nucleus accumbens (Acb). In addition, semi quantitative in situ hybridization revealed that 6 weeks of wheel running, compared to sedentary housing, increased tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) mRNA levels in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), increased delta opioid receptor (DOR) mRNA levels in the Acb shell, and reduced levels of dopamine receptor (DR)-D2 mRNA in the Acb core. Results indicate that repeated voluntary exercise is rewarding and alters gene transcription in mesolimbic reward neurocircuitry. The duration-dependent effects of wheel running on CPP suggest that as the weeks of wheel running progress, the rewarding effects of a night of voluntary wheel running might linger longer into the inactive cycle thus providing stronger support for CPP. The observed plasticity could contribute to the mechanisms by which exercise reduces the incidence and severity of substance abuse disorders, changes the rewarding properties of drugs of abuse, and facilitates successful coping with stress.

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