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Limbic control over the homeostatic need for sodium

Journal article
Authors J. P. H. Verharen
T. J. M. Roelofs
S. Menting-Henry
M. C. M. Luijendijk
Ljmj Vanderschuren
Roger A. H. Adan
Published in Scientific Reports
Volume 9
ISSN 2045-2322
Publication year 2019
Published at Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology
Language en
Keywords nucleus-accumbens, salt appetite, microstructural analysis, palatability, dopamine, licking, circuits, emotion, neurons, rats, Science & Technology - Other Topics, ricker em, 1974, journal of comparative and physiological psychology, v86, p973
Subject categories Internal medicine


The homeostatic need for sodium is one of the strongest motivational drives known in animals. Although the brain regions involved in the sensory detection of sodium levels have been mapped relatively well, data about the neural basis of the motivational properties of salt appetite, including a role for midbrain dopamine cells, have been inconclusive. Here, we employed a combination of fiber photometry, behavioral pharmacology and c-Fos immunohistochemistry to study the involvement of the mesocorticolimbic dopamine system in salt appetite in rats. We observed that sodium deficiency affected the responses of dopaminergic midbrain neurons to salt tasting, suggesting that these neurons encode appetitive properties of sodium. We further observed a significant reduction in the consumption of salt after pharmacological inactivation of the nucleus accumbens (but not the medial prefrontal cortex), and microstructure analysis of licking behavior suggested that this was due to decreased motivation for, but not appreciation of salt. However, this was not dependent on dopaminergic neurotransmission in that area, as infusion of a dopamine receptor antagonist into the nucleus accumbens did not alter salt appetite. We conclude that the nucleus accumbens, but not medial prefrontal cortex, is important for the behavioral expression of salt appetite by mediating its motivational component, but that the switch in salt appreciation after sodium depletion, although detected by midbrain dopamine neurons, must arise from other areas.

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