Ghrelin is an orexigenic peptide that acts within the central nervous system to stimulate appetite and food intake via the growth hormone secretagogue receptor (GHS-R). It has been hypothesized that ghrelin modulates food intake in part by stimulating reward pathways in the brain and potentially stimulating the intake of palatable foods. Here we examined the effects of chronic ghrelin administration in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) via osmotic minipumps on 1) ad libitum food intake and bodyweight; 2) macronutrient preference; and 3) motivation to obtain chocolate pellets. In the first study rats receiving ghrelin into the VTA showed a dose-dependent increase in the intake of regular chow, also resulting in increased body weight gain. A second study revealed that intra-VTA delivery of the ghrelin receptor antagonist [Lys-3]-GHRP-6 selectively reduced caloric intake of high-fat chow and reduced body weight gain relative to control and ghrelin treated rats. The third study demonstrated that food restricted rats worked harder for food pellets when infused with ghrelin than when infused with vehicle or ghrelin receptor antagonist treated rats. Finally, rats trained on an FR1 schedule but returned to ad libitum during ghrelin infusion, responded at 86% of baseline levels when they were not hungry, whereas saline infused rats responded at 36% of baseline. Together, these results suggest that ghrelin acts directly on the VTA to increase preference for and motivation to obtain highly-palatable food.

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Keywords Body weight, Food intake, Ghrelin, Reward, Ventral tegmental area
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Journal Hormones and Behavior
King, S.J. (S. J.), Isaacs, A.M. (A. M.), O'Farrell, E. (E.), & Abizaid, A. (2011). Motivation to obtain preferred foods is enhanced by ghrelin in the ventral tegmental area. Hormones and Behavior, 60(5), 572–580. doi:10.1016/j.yhbeh.2011.08.006