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Ghrelin's effects on food motivation in rats are not limited to palatable foods

Journal article
Authors Tina Bake
Christian Edvardsson
Cameron Cummings
Suzanne L. Dickson
Published in Journal of Neuroendocrinology
Volume 31
Issue 7
ISSN 0953-8194
Publication year 2019
Published at Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Department of Physiology
Language en
Keywords fasting, food devaluation, ghrelin, goal-directed behaviour, hunger, operant conditioning, arcuate nucleus, increases, peptide, expression, meal, Endocrinology & Metabolism, Neurosciences & Neurology
Subject categories Physiology


The "hunger" hormone, ghrelin, is powerfully orexigenic. Even in the absence of hunger, ghrelin delivery to rats increases consumption of chow, as well as palatable foods, and increases motivated behaviour for palatable food rewards. Inspired by the finding that ghrelin increases the selection of chow in rats offered a choice diet (lard, sucrose or chow) and even in rats bingeing on a high-fat diet, we aimed to explore whether the effects of ghrelin on motivation extend to regular chow. Rats were conditioned to lever press for either chow or sucrose pellets in a progressive ratio (PR) operant conditioning task. The effect of acute i.c.v. delivery of ghrelin on both chow and sucrose self-administration was determined and compared with overnight fasting (ie, when endogenous ghrelin levels are elevated). We found that ghrelin similarly increased motivated behaviour for chow and sucrose pellets. The effect of fasting on motivated behaviour for both food pellets was comparable in magnitude to that induced by ghrelin, albeit with an earlier ceiling effect during the PR session. Devaluation experiments (in which rats are offered either food reinforcer in excess prior to PR testing) did not support the hypothesis that sucrose pellets would be more difficult to devalue (as a result of their higher incentive value) than chow pellets. When exchanging the respective pellets during a PR session, chow-conditioned rats were more motivated for sucrose pellets compared to chow pellets; however, sucrose-conditioned rats were similarly motivated for chow pellets compared to sucrose pellets. Thus, using sucrose as a reward may increase the motivation even for less palatable foods. We conclude that the impact of ghrelin on food-motivated behaviour in fed rats is not limited to palatable foods but extends to regular chow, and also that the magnitude of the effect is considerable compared to that of an overnight fast.

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