Ghrelin receptor activation in the ventral tegmental area amplified instrumental responding but not the excitatory influence of Pavlovian stimuli on instrumental responding

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Pavlovian stimuli predictive of food are able to amplify instrumental responding for food. This phenomenon termed Pavlovian-instrumental transfer (PIT) critically depends on intact VTA function and mesoaccumbens dopamine transmission. Considerable evidence suggests that food-predictive stimuli can enhance the release of ghrelin, an orexigen hormone that promotes food-directed responding. The ventral tegmental area (VTA) appears to be a key region through which stimulation of ghrelin receptors (GHS-R1A) invigorates food-directed responding, in part by activating the mesoaccumbens dopamine system. Thus, it is conceivable that stimulation of GHS-R1A in the VTA can amplify PIT, i.e. stimulus-elicited increase in lever pressing for food. Here we examined in rats the effects of VTA ghrelin microinfusion on PIT. Our results demonstrate that ghrelin microinfusion into the VTA failed to enhance PIT suggesting that VTA GHS-R1A stimulation was unable to enhance the motivational significance of food-predictive stimuli. Consistent with previous studies, our results further indicate that intra-VTA ghrelin microinfusion invigorated instrumental responding under a progressive ratio schedule. These data provide support to the notion that VTA GHS-R1A stimulation increases the tendency to work for food.

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