Melanin concentrating hormone (MCH) stimulates feeding driven by energy needs and reward and modifies anxiety behavior. Orexigenic peptides of similar characteristics, including nociceptin/orphanin FQ, Agouti-related protein and opioids, increase consumption also by reducing avoidance of potentially tainted food in animals displaying a conditioned taste aversion (CTA). Herein, using real-time PCR, we assessed whether expression levels of genes encoding MCH and its receptor, MCHR1, were affected in CTA in the rat. We also investigated whether injecting MCH intracerebroventricularly (ICV) during the acquisition and retrieval of LiCl-induced CTA, would alleviate aversive responses. MCHR1 gene was upregulated in the hypothalamus and brain stem of aversive animals, MCH mRNA was significantly higher in the hypothalamus, whereas a strong trend suggesting upregulation of MCH and MCHR1 genes was detected in the amygdala. Despite these expression changes associated with aversion, MCH injected prior to the induction of CTA with LiCl as well as later, during the CTA retrieval upon subsequent presentations of the aversive tastant, did not reduce the magnitude of CTA. We conclude that MCH and its receptor form an orexigenic system whose expression is affected in CTA. This altered MCH expression may contribute to tastant-targeted hypophagia in CTA. However, changing the MCH tone in the brain by exogenous peptide was insufficient to prevent the onset or facilitate extinction of LiCl-induced CTA. This designates MCH as one of many accessory molecules associated with shaping an aversive response, but not a critical one for LiCl-dependent CTA to occur.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank Shahrzad Shirazi Fard for the technical help with RNA preparation. The studies were supported by the Swedish Research Council , The Novo Nordisk Foundation and the Brain Research Foundation , National Institute on Drug Abuse Grants R01DA021280 , National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases P30DK50456 , and the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research Grant T32DE007288 .