Stimuli predicting high-calorie reward increase dopamine release and drive approach to food in the absence of homeostatic need

Nutr Neurosci. 2022 Mar;25(3):593-602. doi: 10.1080/1028415X.2020.1782613. Epub 2020 Jun 24.


Animals and humans are motivated to consume high-fat, high-calorie foods by cues predicting such foods. The neural mechanisms underlying this effect are not well understood.Objective: We tested the hypothesis that cues paired with a food reward, as compared to explicitly unpaired cues, increase rats' food-seeking behavior by potentiating dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens, and that this effect would be less evident under satiety.Methods: We used a simple discriminative stimulus task and electrochemical recordings of dopamine release in freely moving rats.Results: We found that both food-predictive cue and hunger increased conditioned approaches to the receptacle (food-seeking behavior indicated by movement to the food receptacle). In addition, we observed dopamine release when the food-predictive cue (but not the unpaired cue) was presented, independent of hunger or satiety. Finally, we found a positive correlation between dopamine release amplitude and the number of conditioned approaches to the food receptacle in the sated condition, but not in the hungry condition.Discussion: Our results suggest that dopamine could drive seeking behavior for calorie-dense food in absence of homeostatic need, a core aspect of binge eating disorders.

Keywords: High-fat reward; discrimination; dopamine; food-seeking behavior; nucleus accumbens; rat.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cues
  • Dopamine*
  • Food
  • Nucleus Accumbens
  • Rats
  • Reward*


  • Dopamine