Ghrelin receptor (Ghr-R) signaling in neurons of the ventral tegmental area (VTA) can modulate dopaminergic function and the reward-related effects of both palatable foods and drugs of abuse. In this study, we re-introduced the Ghr-R in VTA neurons in Ghr-R knockout mice (Ghr-RVTA mice) to specifically study the importance of the constitutively active Ghr-R for VTA neuronal signaling. Our results showed that re-introduction of the Ghr-R in the VTA had no impact on body weight or food intake under basal conditions. However, during novel environment stress Ghr-RVTA mice showed increased food intake and energy expenditure compared to Ghr-R knockout mice, demonstrating the significance of Ghr-R signaling in the response to stress. Ghr-RVTA mice also showed increased cocaine-induced locomotor activity compared to Ghr-R knockout mice, highlighting the importance of ghrelin signaling for the reward-related effects of activation of VTA neurons. Overall, our data suggest that re-introduction of the Ghr-R in the mesolimbic reward system of Ghr-R knockout mice increases the level of activation induced by both cocaine and novelty stress.
Keywords: cocaine sensitivity; energy expenditure; food anticipatory activity; ghrelin; ghrelin receptor; stress; ventral tegmental area.