Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2003 May;284(5):R1260-8.
Recent studies suggest that the mesoaccumbens dopamine system undergoes neurochemical alterations as a result of restricted feeding conditions with access to sugars. This effect appears to be similar to the neuroadaptation resulting from drugs of abuse and may underlay some pathological feeding behaviors.
To further investigate the cellular mechanisms of these alterations, the present study used quantitative autoradiography and in situ hybridization to assess dopamine membrane transporter (DAT) protein density and mRNA expression in restricted-fed and free-fed adult male rats. The restricted feeding regimen consisted of daily limited access to either a normally preferred sucrose solution (0.3 M) or a less preferred chow in a scheduled (i.e., contingent) fashion for 7 days. Restricted-fed rats with the contingent sucrose access lost less body weight, ate more total food, and drank more fluid than free-fed, contingent food, or noncontingent controls. In addition, these animals had selectively higher DAT binding in the nucleus accumbens and ventral tegmental area. This increase in protein binding also was accompanied by an increase in DAT mRNA levels in the ventral tegmental area. In contrast to the restricted-fed groups, no differential effect in DAT regulation was observed across free-fed groups.
The observed alteration in behavior and DAT regulation suggest that neuroadaptation in the mesoaccumbens dopamine system develops in response to repeated feeding on palatable foods under dietary constraints. This supports the notion that similar cellular changes may be involved in restrictive eating disorders and bingeing.