Food restriction has been reported to reduce anxiety-like behaviour in male rats, whereas the effects of food restriction on anxiety in female rats are less clear. Ghrelin is a peptide hormone produced and secreted in the stomach that stimulates food intake and is considered to play a role in reward and emotional responses such as fear expression. Under food restriction, endogenous ghrelin levels increase. In the present study, we examined the effect of moderate food restriction (80% of ad libitum fed weight), with or without an acute application of a small dose of exogenous ghrelin intended to cause an immediate hunger response, on the expression of the acoustic startle reflex (ASR). This was carried out under basal conditions (baseline ASR to 90- and 95-dB noise bursts), and in the presence of a light cue associated with a mild foot-shock, as measured by fear-potentiated startle, which compares the proportional change in ASR in the presence of the conditioned stimulus. The results obtained show that food-restriction reduces basal ASR in both male and female rats, apart from any concomitant change in motor activity, suggesting that food-restriction reduces anxiety levels in both sexes. In addition, the data show that food-restriction reduces fear-potentiated startle in male but not female rats. Acute ghrelin injection, prior to fear-potentiated startle testing, eliminates the expression of fear-potentiated startle in food-restricted male rats alone, suggesting a role for ghrelin in the reduction of fear expression in food-restricted male rats. These data imply that, although food-restriction decreases anxiety in both sexes, learned fear responses remain intact after food-restriction in female but not male rats.

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Keywords acoustic startle, anxiety, fear, food-restriction, ghrelin, Pavlovian conditioning, sex differences
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Journal Journal of Neuroendocrinology
Toufexis, D.J., Lipatova, O., Johnson, A.C., & Abizaid, A. (2016). Food-Restriction Lowers the Acoustic Startle Response in both Male and Female Rats, and, in Combination with Acute Ghrelin Injection, Abolishes the Expression of Fear-Potentiated Startle in Male Rats. Journal of Neuroendocrinology, 28(11). doi:10.1111/jne.12436