Motivation plays an important role in the control of food intake. A cue that acquires motivational properties through pairings with food consumption when an animal is hungry can override satiety and promote eating in sated rats. This phenomenon of conditioned potentiation of feeding is mediated by connections between the forebrain and the lateral hypothalamic area (LHA). In a recent study using markers for cellular activation, neurons in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) that project directly to the LHA were strongly engaged after exposure to a conditioned cue that stimulates eating in sated rats. Here, we examined whether those vmPFC neurons are necessary for conditioned potentiation of eating. We trained rats in a paradigm in which the context provided conditioning cues. Rats with bilateral neurotoxic lesions of vmPFC were impaired in context-enhanced food consumption in tests when the rats were sated. At the same time, vmPFC lesions did not produce changes in food consumption in the home cage or changes in body weight during training. Thus, vmPFC neurotoxic lesions produced impairment in food consumption specifically driven by conditioned motivational cues. The current findings suggest a critical role for vmPFC in the brain network that mediates control of conditioned motivation to eat perhaps by a mechanism akin to appetite or craving.
- Pavlovian conditioning
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