Exposure to psychosocial stressors increases consumption of palatable, calorically dense diets (CDD) and the risk for obesity, especially in females. While consumption of an obesogenic diet and chronic stress have both been shown to decrease dopamine 2 receptor (D2R) binding and alter functional connectivity (FC) within the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the nucleus accumbens (NAcc), it remains uncertain how social experience and dietary environment interact to affect reward pathways critical for the regulation of motivated behavior. Using positron emission tomography (PET) and resting state functional connectivity magnetic resonance neuroimaging (rs-fMRI), in female rhesus monkeys maintained in a low calorie chow (n = 18) or a dietary choice condition (chow and a CDD; n = 16) for 12 months, the current study tested the overarching hypothesis that the adverse social experience resulting from subordinate social status would interact with consumption of an obesogenic diet to increase caloric intake that would be predicted by greater cortisol, lower prefrontal D2R binding potential (D2R-BP) and lower PFC-NAcc FC. Results showed that the consequences of adverse social experience imposed by chronic social subordination vary significantly depending on the dietary environment and are associated with alterations in prefrontal D2R-BP and FC in NAcc-PFC sub-regions that predict differences in caloric intake, body weight gain, and fat accumulation. Higher levels of cortisol in the chow-only condition were associated with mild inappetence, as well as increased orbitofrontal (OFC) D2R-BP and greater FC between the NAcc and the dorsolateral PFC (dlPFC) and ventromedial PFC (vmPFC). However, increased cortisol release in females in the dietary choice condition was associated with reduced prefrontal D2R-BP, and opposite FC between the NAcc and the vmPFC and dlPFC observed in the chow-only females. Importantly, the degree of these glucocorticoid-related neuroadaptations predicted significantly more total calorie intake as well as more consumption of the CDD for females having a dietary choice, but had no relation to calorie intake in the chow-only condition. Overall, the current findings suggest that dietary environment modifies the consequences of adverse social experience on reward pathways and appetite regulation and, in an obesogenic dietary environment, may reflect impaired cognitive control of food intake.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
- Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
- Psychiatry and Mental health
- Biological Psychiatry