Corticostriatal-hypothalamic circuitry and food motivation: integration of energy, action and reward

Physiol Behav. 2005 Dec 15;86(5):773-95. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2005.08.066. Epub 2005 Nov 14.


Work over the past decade has supported the idea that discrete aspects of appetitive motivation are differentially mediated by separate but interacting neurochemical systems within the nucleus accumbens (Acb). We review herein a series of studies in rats comparing the effects of manipulating Acb amino acid, opioid, acetylcholine, and dopamine systems on tests of free-feeding and food-reinforced operant responding. Results from our laboratory and in the literature support three general conclusions: (1) GABA output neurons localized exclusively within the Acb shell directly influence hypothalamic effector mechanisms for feeding motor patterns, but do not participate in the execution of more complex food-seeking strategies; (2) enkephalinergic neurons distributed throughout the Acb and caudate-putamen mediate the hedonic impact of palatable (high sugar/fat) foods, and these neurons are under modulatory control by striatal cholinergic interneurons; and (3) dopamine transmission in the Acb governs general motoric and arousal processes related to response selection and invigoration, as well as motor learning-related plasticity. These dissociations may reflect the manner in which these neurochemical systems differentially access pallido-thalamo-cortical loops reaching the voluntary motor system (in the case of opioids and dopamine), versus more restricted efferent connections to hypothalamic motor/autonomic control columns (in the case of Acb shell GABA and glutamate systems). Moreover, we hypothesize that while these systems work in tandem to coordinate the anticipatory and consummatory phases of feeding with hypothalamic energy-sensing substrates, the striatal opioid network evolved a specialized capacity to promote overeating of energy-dense foods beyond acute homeostatic needs, to ensure an energy reserve for potential future famine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / physiology
  • Amino Acids / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Dopamine / physiology
  • Eating / drug effects
  • Eating / physiology
  • Eating / psychology
  • Endorphins / physiology
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Food*
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamus / physiology*
  • Motivation*
  • Neostriatum / physiology*
  • Nucleus Accumbens / physiology
  • Reward*


  • Amino Acids
  • Endorphins
  • Acetylcholine
  • Dopamine