Behav Neurosci. 2017 Apr;131(2):155-167. doi: 10.1037/bne0000185.
In humans, relapse to unhealthy eating habits following dieting is a significant impediment to obesity treatment. Food-associated cues are one of the main triggers of relapse to unhealthy eating during self-imposed abstinence. Here we report a behavioral method examining cue-induced relapse to food seeking following punishment-induced suppression of food taking. We trained male rats to lever press for food pellets that were delivered after a 10-s conditional stimulus (CS) (appetitive). Following training, 25% of reinforced lever presses resulted in the presentation of a compound stimulus consisting of a novel CS (aversive) and the appetitive CS followed by a pellet and footshock. After punishment-imposed abstinence, we tested the rats in an extinction test where lever pressing resulted in the presentation of either the appetitive or aversive CS. We then compared activity of lateral hypothalamus (LH) and associated extrahypothalamic regions following this test. We also assessed Fos expression in LH orexin and GABA neurons. We found that cue-induced relapse of food seeking on test was higher in rats tested with the appetitive CS compared to the aversive CS. Relapse induced by the appetitive CS was associated with increased Fos expression in LH, caudal basolateral amygdala (BLA), and medial amygdala (MeA). This relapse was also associated with increased Fos expression in LH orexin and VGAT-expressing neurons. These data show that relapse to food seeking can be induced by food-associated cues after punishment-imposed abstinence, and this relapse is associated with increased activity in LH, caudal BLA, and MeA. (PsycINFO Database Record