Exposure to a diet high in fat attenuates dendritic spine density in the medial prefrontal cortex

Brain Struct Funct. 2017 Mar;222(2):1077-1085. doi: 10.1007/s00429-016-1208-y. Epub 2016 Mar 17.


A key factor in the development of obesity is the overconsumption of food calorically high in fat. Overconsumption of food high in fat not only promotes weight gain but elicits changes in reward processing. No studies to date have examined whether consumption of a high-fat (HF) diet alters structural plasticity in brain areas critical for reward processing, which may account for persistent changes in behavior and psychological function by reorganizing synaptic connectivity. To test whether dietary fat may induce structural plasticity we placed rats on one of three dietary conditions: ad libitum standard chow (SC), ad libitum 60 % HF (HF-AL), or calorically matched 60 % HF (HF-CM) for 3 weeks and then quantified dendritic spine density and type on basal and apical dendrites of pyramidal cells in layer V of the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and medium spiny neurons (MSNs) of the nucleus accumbens. Our results demonstrate a significant reduction in the density of thin spines on the apical and basal segments of dendrites within the infralimbic, but not prelimbic, mPFC.

Keywords: Dendritic spines; High-fat; Plasticity; Prefrontal cortex.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue
  • Animals
  • Body Weight
  • Dendritic Spines / physiology*
  • Diet, High-Fat*
  • Male
  • Neuronal Plasticity*
  • Nucleus Accumbens / cytology
  • Nucleus Accumbens / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / cytology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Reward