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Prolonged ad libitum access to low-concentration sucrose changes the neurochemistry of the nucleus accumbens in male Sprague-Dawley rats

Hakim, Jonathan D., Keay, Kevin A.
Physiology & behavior 2019 v.201 pp. 95-103
beverages, brain, food choices, gene expression, laboratory animals, males, messenger RNA, motivation, protein synthesis, rats, receptors, sucrose, sugar content
Overconsumption of sugars contributes to poor health outcomes. Sugars are often added to commercial foods and beverages in low concentrations and these hidden sugars are consumed unnoticed, continuously. These hidden sugars are suggested to increase the motivation for foodstuffs with higher sugar contents, due to their rewarding properties. This process has been attributed in part, to the activity of both dopaminergic and opioidergic systems in the nucleus accumbens. We asked the question whether prolonged continuous consumption of a low concentration sucrose solution was sufficient to trigger alterations in both dopaminergic and opioidergic systems in the nucleus accumbens of male Sprague-Dawley rats. Rats were given access to either, 1% sucrose and water ad libitum for 3 weeks, or water alone, we then assayed the nucleus accumbens for mRNA and protein expression levels of D1 and D2 dopamine receptors which mediate appetitive motivation and wanting behaviors and for μ-opioid receptors which mediate liking of rewarding stimuli. Our data revealed that rats express a strong preference for 1% sucrose, and showed increased μ-opioid receptor mRNA expression bilaterally in the nucleus accumbens; increased D1 receptor mRNA expression in the left nucleus accumbens; and increased D2 receptor mRNA expression and decreased D2 receptor protein expression in the right nucleus accumbens. We also noted clear individual differences in the volumes of sucrose ingested over this period, however these differences did not correlate with the changes in neurochemistry. Our data show that prolonged ad libitum access to low concentration sucrose alters brain circuits critical for coding reward which may contribute to an enhanced drive for sweet foods and beverages.