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Stress as a context: Stress causes relapse of inhibited food seeking if it has been associated with prior food seeking

Schepers, Scott T., Bouton, Mark E.
Appetite 2019 v.132 pp. 131-138
animal models, animal stress, appetite, drugs, overeating, pellets, rats, relapse, sucrose
Three experiments with rats explored the hypothesis that inhibited food-seeking can be reinstated by stress if stress has been part of the context of earlier food-seeking. In all experiments, rats first learned to lever press for sucrose pellets and then had the response inhibited through extinction (where responding no longer yielded sucrose pellets). In a final test, inhibited responding was tested after exposure to a stressor or not. Previous research indicates that stress during testing does not normally reinstate extinguished food-seeking, although it reliably does so when animals are responding for drugs. In Experiment 1, stress caused a reinstatement of food seeking if and only if the rats had been exposed to stressors prior to sessions of lever press training. In Experiment 2, a new stressor that had not been associated with response acquisition also caused reinstatement if other stressors had been associated with response acquisition. Experiment 3 then established that stressors must be associated with the acquisition of lever pressing, rather than extinction, in order to allow a stressor to cause relapse of extinguished food seeking. The results support the view that stress can cause relapse of inhibited food seeking if it has been part of the context of original food seeking. The effect is therefore an example of the ABA renewal effect in which inhibited responding recovers after extinction when the response is returned to its training context. Implications for understanding relapse to overeating and other “addictive” behaviors are discussed.