Are Oreos Addictive? Nucleus Accumbens C-Fos Expression Is Correlated with Conditioned Place Preference to Cocaine, Morphine and High Fat/Sugar Food Consumption

By: Jamie C. Honohan '13, Rebecca H. Markson '13, Lauren Cameron '14

Advising Faculty: Joseph A. Schroeder

Obesity is a rapidly expanding epidemic that has serious health consequences and is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Psychostimulant and opioid addiction is a separate serious societal issue stemming from an individual’s inability to control reward-seeking behavior. Cravings for drugs of abuse as well as highly palatable foods can be triggered simply by exposure to a reward-paired environment. Stimulation of the brain’s reward center by addictive substances, including high fat/sugar foods, triggers expression of immediate early genes, the measurement of which can be used as an indicator of cellular activation. This study found that in rats, the reward behavior associated with consuming high fat/sugar food (Oreo cookies) is equivalent to the rewarding properties of cocaine and morphine. When the brains of the animals were examined, it was found that Oreos caused a higher level of activation than cocaine or morphine in the nucleus accumbens, a brain area responsible for feelings of pleasure and addiction. These findings suggest that high fat/sugar foods and drugs of abuse trigger brain addictive processes to the same degree and lend support to the hypothesis that maladaptive eating behaviors contributing to obesity can be compared to drug addiction.

Related Fields: Behavioral Neuroscience