A food restriction protocol that increases drug reward decreases tropomyosin receptor kinase B in the ventral tegmental area, with no effect on brain-derived neurotrophic factor or tropomyosin receptor kinase B protein levels in dopaminergic forebrain regions.

PMID 21945647


Food restriction (FR) decreases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) expression in hypothalamic and hindbrain regions that regulate feeding and metabolic efficiency, while increasing expression in hippocampal and neocortical regions. Drugs of abuse alter BDNF expression within the mesocorticolimbic dopamine (DA) pathway, and modifications of BDNF expression within this pathway alter drug-directed behavior. Although FR produces a variety of striatal neuroadaptations and potentiates the rewarding effects of abused drugs, the effects of FR on BDNF expression and function within the DA pathway are unknown. The primary purpose of the present study was to examine the effect of FR on protein levels of BDNF and its tropomyosin receptor kinase B (TrkB) receptor in component structures of the mesocorticolimbic pathway. Three to four weeks of FR, with stabilization of rats at 80% of initial body weight, did not alter BDNF or TrkB levels in nucleus accumbens, caudate-putamen, or medial prefrontal cortex. However, FR decreased TrkB levels in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), without change in levels of BDNF protein or mRNA. The finding that FR also decreased TrkB levels in substantia nigra, with elevation of BDNF protein, suggests that decreased TrkB in VTA could be a residual effect of increased BDNF during an earlier phase of FR. Voltage-clamp recordings in VTA DA neurons indicated decreased glutamate receptor transmission. These data might predict lower average firing rates in FR relative to ad libitum fed subjects, which would be consistent with previous evidence of decreased striatal DA transmission and upregulation of postsynaptic DA receptor signaling. However, FR subjects also displayed elevated VTA levels of phospho-ERK1/2, which is an established mediator of synaptic plasticity. Because VTA neurons are heterogeneous with regard to neurochemistry, function, and target projections, the relationship(s) between the three changes observed in VTA, and their involvement in the augmented striatal and behavioral responsiveness of FR subjects to drugs of abuse, remains speculative.