Evidence for a compulsive-like behavior in rats exposed to alternate access to highly preferred palatable food (2014)

Addict Biol. 2014 Nov;19(6):975-85. doi: 10.1111/adb.12065. Epub 2013 May 9.

Rossetti C1, Spena G, Halfon O, Boutrel B.


Converging evidence suggests that recurrent excessive calorie restriction causes binge eating by promoting behavioral disinhibition and overeating. This interpretation suggests that cognitive adaptations may surpass physiological regulations of metabolic needs after recurrent cycles of dieting and binging. Intermittent access to palatable food has long been studied in rats, but the consequences of such diet cycling procedures on the cognitive control of food seeking remain unclear. Female Wistar rats were divided in two groups matched for food intake and body weight. One group received standard chow pellets 7 days/week, whereas the second group was given chow pellets for 5 days and palatable food for 2 days over seven consecutive weeks. Rats were also trained for operant conditioning. Intermittent access to palatable food elicited binging behavior and reduced intake of normal food.

Rats with intermittent access to palatable food failed to exhibit anxiety-like behaviors in the elevated plus maze, but displayed reduced locomotor activity in the open field and developed a blunted corticosterone response following an acute stress across the diet procedure. Trained under a progressive ratio schedule, both groups exhibited the same motivation for sweetened food pellets. However, in contrast to controls, rats with a history of dieting and binging exhibited a persistent compulsive-like behavior when access to preferred pellets was paired with mild electrical foot shock punishments. These results highlight the intricate development of anxiety-like disorders and cognitive deficits leading to a loss of control over preferred food intake after repetitive cycles of intermittent access to palatable food.

KEYWORDS:  Anxiety; compulsive-like behavior; diet; palatable food; stress

PMID: 23654201

DOI: 10.1111/adb.12065