The reward system, which consists of dopaminergic neurons projecting from the ventral tegmental area (VTA) to the nucleus accumbens and caudate-putamen in the striatum, has an important role in the pathogenesis of not only drug addiction but also diet-induced obesity. In the present study, we examined whether signaling through glucocorticoid receptors (GRs) in the reward system affects the rewarding value of a high-fat diet (HFD). To do so, we generated mice that lack functional GRs specifically in dopaminergic neurons (D-KO mice) or corticostriatal neurons (CS-KO mice), subjected the mice to caloric restriction stress conditions, and evaluated the rewarding value of a HFD by conditioned place preference (CPP) test. Caloric restriction induced increases in serum corticosterone to similar levels in all genotypes. While CS-KO as well as WT mice exhibited a significant preference for HFD in the CPP test, D-KO mice exhibited no such preference. There were no differences between WT and D-KO mice in consumption of HFD after fasting or cognitive function evaluated by a novel object recognition test. These data suggest that glucocorticoid signaling in the VTA increases the rewarding value of a HFD under restricted caloric stress.
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