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Junk Food Exposure Disrupts Selection of Food-Seeking Actions in Rats.

  • Author(s): Kosheleff, Alisa R
  • Araki, Jingwen
  • Tsan, Linda
  • Chen, Grace
  • Murphy, Niall P
  • Maidment, Nigel T
  • Ostlund, Sean B
  • et al.

There is growing evidence that repeated consumption of highly palatable, nutritionally poor "junk food" diets can produce deficits in cognition and behavioral control. We explored whether long-term junk-food diet exposure disrupts rats' ability to make adaptive choices about which foods to pursue based on (1) expected reward value (outcome devaluation test) and (2) cue-evoked reward expectations (Pavlovian-to-instrumental test). Rats were initially food restricted and trained on two distinct response-outcome contingencies (e.g., left press chocolate pellets, and right press sweetened condensed milk) and stimulus-outcome contingencies (e.g., white noise chocolate pellets, and clicker sweetened condensed milk). They were then given 6 weeks of unrestricted access to regular chow alone (controls) or chow and either 1 or 24 h access to junk food per day. Subsequent tests of decision making revealed that rats in both junk-food diet groups were impaired in selecting actions based on either expected food value or the presence of food-paired cues. These data demonstrate that chronic junk food consumption can disrupt the processes underlying adaptive control over food-seeking behavior. We suggest that the resulting dysregulation of food seeking may contribute to overeating and obesity.

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