Affective Pavlovian motivation is enhanced in obesity susceptible populations: Implications for incentive motivation in obesity

Behav Brain Res. 2020 Feb 17;380:112318. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2019.112318. Epub 2019 Nov 21.


Continually rising global obesity rates present a major challenge to human health. The contribution of Pavlovian motivational processes to overeating and obesity has become increasingly apparent. In humans, brain and behavioral reactivity to food-related stimuli positively correlates with subsequent weight gain. In concordance with this, selectively bred obesity-prone rats show stronger single-outcome Pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer (SO PIT) than obesity-resistant rats, providing support for the hypothesis that enhanced Pavlovian motivation is a pre-existing phenotype of obesity-susceptibility. However, whether obesity-susceptibility in outbred rats is associated with similar enhancements in PIT was unknown. Moreover, given that SO PIT does not distinguish between sensory specific and general affective motivational processes, it was unclear which of these was linked to obesity-susceptibility. Thus, here we determined whether obesity-susceptibility is associated with enhanced Sensory Specific (SS) PIT versus General PIT using both outbred and selectively bred populations. Rats were trained with two action-outcome and three stimulus-outcome associations; two of the Pavlovian and instrumental associations shared a common outcome. During PIT testing, the influence of the Pavlovian stimuli on the two instrumental responses were measured simultaneously. In outbred rats, expression of General PIT was positively correlated with subsequently determined obesity-susceptibility. In selectively bred rats, General PIT was stronger in obesity-prone versus obesity-resistant rats. Jointly, these data show that enhanced affective Pavlovian motivation is tightly linked to obesity vulnerability, supporting a role for phenotypic differences in incentive motivation in vulnerability to obesity. This has important implications for obesity prevention and for the specific neurocircuitry underlying enhanced food-seeking in vulnerable populations.

Keywords: Food cues; General PIT; Incentive motivation; Obesity; Pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer; Sensory specific PIT.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Affect / physiology*
  • Amygdala / physiopathology
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology*
  • Conditioning, Operant / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Food*
  • Male
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Nucleus Accumbens / physiopathology
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley