Impaired fear extinction retention and increased anxiety-like behaviours induced by limited daily access to a high-fat/high-sugar diet in male rats: Implications for diet-induced prefrontal cortex dysregulation (2016)

Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2016 Dec;136:127-138. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2016.10.002.

Baker KD1, Reichelt AC2.


Anxiety disorders and obesity are both common in youth and young adults. Despite increasing evidence that over-consumption of palatable high-fat/high-sugar “junk” foods leads to adverse neurocognitive outcomes, little is known about the effects of palatable diets on emotional memories and fear regulation.

In the present experiments we examined the effects of daily 2h consumption of a high-fat/high-sugar (HFHS) food across adolescence on fear inhibition and anxiety-like behaviour in young adult rats. Rats exposed to the HFHS diet exhibited impaired retention of fear extinction and increased anxiety-like behaviour in an emergence test compared to rats fed a standard diet.

The HFHS-fed rats displayed diet-induced changes in prefrontal cortex (PFC) function which were detected by altered expression of GABAergic parvalbumin-expressing inhibitory interneurons and the stable transcription factor ΔFosB which accumulates in the PFC in response to chronic stimuli.

Immunohistochemical analyses of the medial PFC revealed that animals fed the HFHS diet had fewer parvalbumin-expressing cells and increased levels of FosB/ΔFosB expression in the infralimbic cortex, a region implicated in the consolidation of fear extinction. There was a trend towards increased IBA-1 immunoreactivity, a marker of microglial activation, in the infralimbic cortex after HFHS diet exposure but expression of the extracellular glycoprotein reelin was unaffected.

These findings demonstrate that a HFHS diet during adolescence is associated with reductions of prefrontal parvalbumin neurons and impaired fear inhibition in adulthood. Adverse effects of HFHS diets on the mechanisms of fear regulation may precipitate a vulnerability in obese individuals to the development of anxiety disorders.

KEYWORDS: Adolescence; Extinction; Fear; Obesity; Parvalbumin; Prefrontal cortex

PMID: 27720810

DOI: 10.1016/j.nlm.2016.10.002