An Orexin Hotspot in Ventral Pallidum Amplifies Hedonic ‘Liking’ for Sweetness

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Orexin (hypocretin) is implicated in stimulating appetite as well as arousal, and in both food reward and drug reward. The ventral pallidum (VP) receives orexin projections from lateral hypothalamus neurons (LH), and orexin terminals are especially dense in the posterior half of VP, which is also the location of an opioid hedonic hotspot. The VP hotspot is a roughly cubic-millimeter site where mu opioid stimulation can amplify the hedonic impact of sweetness, expressed as an increase in ‘liking’ reactions to sucrose taste. The anatomical overlap in posterior VP between opioid hotspot and orexin inputs raises the possibility that the hedonic hotspot might allow orexin to amplify ‘liking’ too. We examined whether microinjections of orexin-A into the VP hotspot enhance the hedonic impact of sucrose, as assessed via affective taste reactivity measures of ‘liking’ reactions, and additionally compared effects at nearby sites in adjacent LH and extended amygdala. Taste reactivity results indicated that orexin stimulation specifically in the VP hotspot nearly doubled the magnitude of positive ‘liking’ reactions elicited by the taste of sucrose. Mapping results for localization of function, aided by Fos plume measures of the local spread of orexin impact, suggested that hedonic enhancement was generated by essentially the same cubic-millimeter of posterior VP previously identified as the opioid hotspot. By contrast, microinjection sites in the anterior half of VP, or in LH or extended amygdala, generally failed to produce any hedonic enhancement. We conclude that an orexin hedonic hotspot exists in posterior VP, with similar boundaries to the opioid hotspot. An orexin hedonic hotspot may permit regulatory hypothalamic circuitry to make foods more ‘liked’ during hunger by acting through VP. Dysfunction in a VP orexin hotspot in addiction or mood disorders might also contribute to some types of affective psychopathology.

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This research was supported by MH63649 and DA015188 grants from the NIH. We thank Brian Baldo and colleagues for allowing us to redraw parts of Figure 3 inset derived from Baldo et al (2003) Figure 1 panels g and h (orexin terminal distribution in VP), and thank Aaron Garcia for redrawing the inset.

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Correspondence to Chao-Yi Ho or Kent C Berridge.

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  • ventral pallidum
  • lateral hypothalamus
  • pleasure
  • addiction
  • reward
  • eating disorders

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