Opioid site in nucleus accumbens shell mediates eating and hedonic 'liking' for food: map based on microinjection Fos plumes

Brain Res. 2000 Apr 28;863(1-2):71-86. doi: 10.1016/s0006-8993(00)02102-8.


Microinjection of opioid agonists, such as morphine, into the nucleus accumbens shell produces increases in eating behavior (i.e. 'wanting' for food). This study (1) reports direct evidence that activation of accumbens opioid receptors in rats also augments food 'liking', or the hedonic impact of taste, and (2) identified a neural site that definitely contains receptors capable of increasing food intake. Morphine microinjections (0.5 microgram) into accumbens shell, which caused rats to increase eating, were found also to cause selective increases in positive hedonic patterns of behavioral affective reaction elicited by oral sucrose, using the 'taste reactivity' test of hedonic palatability. This positive shift indicated that morphine microinjections enhanced the hedonic impact of food palatability. The accumbens site mediating morphine-induced increases in food 'wanting' and 'liking' was identified using a novel method based on local expression of Fos induced directly by drug microinjections. The plume-shaped region of drug-induced increase in Fos immunoreactivity immediately surrounding a morphine microinjection site (Fos plume) was objectively mapped. A point-sampling procedure was used to measure the shape and size of 'positive' plumes of Fos expression triggered by microinjections of morphine at locations that caused increases in eating behavior. This revealed a functionally 'positive' neural region, containing receptors directly activated by behaviorally-effective drug microinjections. A subtraction mapping procedure was then used to eliminate all surrounding regions containing any 'negative' Fos plumes that failed to increase food intake. The subtraction produced a conservative map of the positive site, by eliminating regions that gave mixed effects, and leaving only a positive region that must contain receptors capable of mediating increases in food intake. The resulting mapped 'opioid eating site' was contained primarily within the medial caudal subregion of the nucleus accumbens shell, and did not substantially penetrate either into the accumbens core or into other subregions of the shell. Several other structures outside the nucleus accumbens (such as rostral ventral pallidum), immediately medial and adjacent to the shell, also appeared to be included in the functional site. Opioid receptors within this site thus are capable of mediating morphine-induced increases in eating, in part by enhancing the hedonic reward properties of food.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Drug Interactions / physiology
  • Eating / drug effects*
  • Eating / physiology*
  • Male
  • Microinjections / methods
  • Morphine / pharmacology
  • Narcotics / pharmacology
  • Nucleus Accumbens / cytology
  • Nucleus Accumbens / drug effects*
  • Nucleus Accumbens / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos / drug effects*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Opioid / drug effects*
  • Receptors, Opioid / metabolism*
  • Reward*
  • Sucrose / pharmacology
  • Taste / drug effects
  • Taste / physiology


  • Narcotics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos
  • Receptors, Opioid
  • Sucrose
  • Morphine