Social change and access to a palatable diet produces differences in reward neurochemistry and appetite in female monkeys

Physiol Behav. 2016 Aug 1;162:102-11. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2016.04.023. Epub 2016 Apr 14.


Understanding factors that contribute to the etiology of obesity is critical for minimizing the effects of obesity-related adverse physical health outcomes. Emotional eating or the inability to control intake of calorically dense diets (CDD) under conditions of psychosocial stress exposure is a potential risk factor for the development of obesity in people. Decreases in dopamine 2 receptors (D2R) availability have been documented in substance abuse and obesity in humans, as well as animal models of chronic stressor exposure. Social subordination in macaques is a well-established animal model of a chronic psychogenic stressor that results in stress axis dysregulation, attenuated striatal D2R levels, and stress-induced hyperphagia in complex dietary environment. However, it remains unclear how these phenotypes emerge as the stressor becomes chronic during the formation of new social groups. Thus, the goal of the current study was to assess how the imposition of social subordination over a four-month period would affect food intake, socioemotional behavior, and D2R binding potential (D2R-BP) in female rhesus monkeys maintained on a typical laboratory chow diet (LCD) compared with those having a choice between a LCD and a CDD. Results showed that access to a CDD leads to increased total caloric intake and preference for a CDD over a LCD. For the dietary choice condition, females directing less aggression towards group mates during the four-month period, a characteristic of lower social status, consumed progressively more calories over the four-month period than more aggressive females. This relation between agonistic behavior and appetite was not observed for females in LCD-only condition. Finally, decreased D2R-BP in the orbitofrontal cortex was predictive of increased overall caloric intake in all females regardless of dietary environment, suggesting that reduced availability of D2R within the prefrontal cortex is associated with unrestrained eating. Studies are continuing to determine how newly imposed dominance ranks continue to affect reward neurochemistry and appetite over time, and how this is influenced by the dietary environment.

Keywords: Diet choice; Dopamine D2 receptors; Emotional eating; Monkeys; Psychosocial stress.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Agonistic Behavior / drug effects
  • Agonistic Behavior / physiology
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Benzamides / pharmacokinetics
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Dietary Fats / administration & dosage
  • Dominance-Subordination*
  • Dopamine Antagonists / pharmacokinetics
  • Eating / physiology*
  • Energy Intake
  • Female
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18 / pharmacokinetics
  • Food Preferences
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Positron-Emission Tomography
  • Reward*
  • Social Behavior
  • Stress, Psychological / blood
  • Stress, Psychological / diagnostic imaging
  • Stress, Psychological / pathology
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*


  • Benzamides
  • Dietary Fats
  • Dopamine Antagonists
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18
  • fallypride
  • Hydrocortisone