Nutritional status modulates many forms of reward-seeking behavior, with caloric restriction increasing the drive for drugs of abuse as well as for food. Understanding the interactions between the mesolimbic dopamine (DA) system (which mediates the incentive salience of natural and artificial rewards) and the neural and hormonal systems that sense and regulate energy balance is thus of significant importance. Leptin, which is produced by adipocytes in proportion to fat content as a hormonal signal of long-term energy stores, acts via its receptor (LepRb) on multiple populations of central nervous system neurons to modulate neural circuits in response to body energy stores. Leptin suppresses feeding and plays a central role in the control of energy balance. In addition to demonstrating that leptin modulates hypothalamic and brainstem circuits to promote satiety, recent work has begun to explore the mechanisms by which leptin influences the mesolimbic DA system and related behaviors. Indeed, leptin diminishes several measures of drug and food reward, and promotes a complex set of changes in the mesolimbic DA system. While many of the details remain to be worked out, several lines of evidence suggest that leptin regulates the mesolimbic DA system via multiple neural pathways and processes, and that distinct sets of LepRb neurons each modulate unique aspects of the mesolimbic DA system and behavior in response to leptin.
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