Sex differences in high fat diet-induced impairments to striatal Akt signaling and enhanced sensitivity to the behavioral effects of dopamine D 2/D 3 receptor agonist quinpirole

Physiol Behav. 2019 May 1;203:25-32. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2017.11.014. Epub 2017 Nov 14.


Eating a high fat laboratory chow enhances sensitivity of rats to the behavioral effects of drugs that act on dopamine systems (e.g., cocaine). Further, in male rats, eating high fat chow impairs expression of insulin signaling phosphorylated protein kinase B (pAkt), which is vital for maintaining dopamine homeostasis. Eating high fat chow enhances sensitivity of female rats to drugs that act indirectly on dopamine receptors (e.g., cocaine); however, less is known about sensitivity of females to drugs that act directly on dopamine receptors (e.g., quinpirole). Further, it is not known if pAkt expression is impaired in female rats eating high fat chow. Some quinpirole-induced behaviors (e.g., penile erections and yawning) are either absent or occur at very low frequency in adult female rats. It is not known if quinpirole sensitivity in adolescent rats is more comparable between sexes. The present report examined another unconditioned behavioral effect (i.e., rearing) induced by once-weekly cumulative doses of quinpirole (0.0032-0.32mg/kg) in male and female Sprague-Dawley rats eating standard laboratory chow (17% kcal from fat) or high fat chow (60% kcal from fat), for several weeks throughout development, (spanning adolescence and early adulthood). Following behavioral assessments, pAkt expression was examined using western blot protein analysis. Eating high fat chow increased sensitivity of male rats to the quinpirole-induced yawning, as compared to male rats eating standard chow. However, other unconditioned behavioral effects of quinpirole (yawning and hypothermia) remained unchanged. Female rats yawned significantly less than male rats, and eating a high fat chow had no effect on any quinpirole-induced unconditioned behavioral effect in female rats. Eating high fat chow also reduced pAkt levels in male, but not female rats. Taken together, these data suggest that alternative behavioral and biochemical assays should be considered to measure sensitivity of female rats to the behavioral effects of dopamine receptor agonists, and further demonstrate the importance of studying drug sensitivity in both male and female subjects.

Keywords: Addiction; Dopamine; High fat diet; Rats; Sex differences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Corpus Striatum / drug effects*
  • Corpus Striatum / metabolism
  • Diet, High-Fat*
  • Dopamine Agonists / pharmacology*
  • Eating / drug effects
  • Female
  • Male
  • Phosphorylation / drug effects
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / metabolism*
  • Quinpirole / pharmacology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Sex Factors
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects*
  • Yawning / drug effects*


  • Dopamine Agonists
  • Quinpirole
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt