Cholinergic modulation of food and drug satiety and withdrawal (2012)

Physiol Behav. 2012 Jun 6;106(3):332-6. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2012.03.020.

Avena NM, Rada PV.


University of Florida, College of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, McKnight Brain Institute, Gainesville FL 32610, United States. [email protected]


Although they comprise only a small portion of the neurons in the region, cholinergic interneurons in the dorsal striatum appear to play an important role in the regulation of various appetitive behaviors, in part, through their interactions with mesolimbic dopamine (DA) systems. In this review, we describe studies that suggest that the activity of cholinergic interneurons in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) and cholinergic projections to the ventral tegmental area (VTA) affect feeding behavior.

In vivo microdialysis studies in rats have revealed that the cessation of a meal is associated with a rise in acetylcholine (ACh) levels in the NAc. ACh activation will suppress feeding, and this is also associated with an increase in synaptic accumulation of ACh. Further, we discuss how, in addition to their role in the ending of a meal, cholinergic interneurons in the NAc play an integral role in the cessation of drug use. Another cholinergic system involved in different aspects of appetitive behavior is the projection from the pedunculpontine nuclei directly to the VTA. Activation of this system enhances behaviors through activation of the mesolimbic DA system, and antagonism of ACh receptors in the VTA can reduce drug self-administration. Finally, we discuss the role of accumbens ACh in both drug and palatable food withdrawal.

Studies reveal that accumbens ACh is increased during withdrawal from several different drugs of abuse (including cocaine, nicotine and morphine). This rise in extracellular levels of ACh, coupled with a decrease in extracellular levels of DA, is believed to contribute to an aversive state, which can manifest as behaviors associated with drug withdrawal. This theory has also been applied to studies of overeating and/or “food addiction,” and the findings suggest a similar imbalance in DA/ACh levels, which is associated with behavioral indications of drug-like withdrawal.

In summary, cholinergic neurons play an important role in the modulation of both food and drug intake, as well as the aversive aspects of food- and drug-related addictive behaviors.