Dopamine D2 receptor overexpression in the nucleus accumbens core induces robust weight loss during scheduled fasting selectively in female mice


Anorexia nervosa (AN) is an eating disorder observed predominantly in women and girls that is characterized by a low body-mass index, hypophagia, and hyperactivity. Activity-based anorexia (ABA), which refers to the weight loss, hypophagia, and hyperactivity exhibited by rodents exposed to both running wheels and scheduled fasting, provides a model for aspects of AN. Increased dopamine D2/D3 receptor binding in the anteroventral striatum has been reported in AN patients. We virally overexpressed D2Rs on nucleus accumbens core (D2R-OENAc) neurons that endogenously express D2Rs, and tested mice of both sexes in the open field test, ABA paradigm, and intraperitoneal glucose tolerance test (IGTT). D2R-OENAc did not alter baseline body weight, but increased locomotor activity in the open field across both sexes. During constant access to food and running wheels, D2R-OENAc mice of both sexes increased food intake and ran more than controls. However, when food was available only 7 h a day, only female D2R-OENAc mice rapidly lost 25% of their initial body weight, reduced food intake, and substantially increased wheel running. Surprisingly, female D2R-OENAc mice also rapidly lost 25% of their initial body weight during scheduled fasting without wheel access and showed no changes in food intake. In contrast, male D2R-OENAc mice maintained body weight during scheduled fasting. D2R-OENAc mice of both sexes also showed glucose intolerance in the IGTT. In conclusion, D2R-OENAc alters glucose metabolism in both sexes but drives robust weight loss only in females during scheduled fasting, implicating metabolic mechanisms in this sexually dimorphic effect.

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Fig. 1: D2R viral overexpression in NAc core increases locomotion.
Fig. 2: Baseline phase of ABA with wheel access.
Fig. 3: Restriction phase of ABA with wheel access.
Fig. 4: Restriction phase of ABA without wheel access.
Fig. 5: D2R-OENAc mice exhibit glucose intolerance.


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We thank Dr Walter Kaye for insightful discussions regarding this work.


SCD was supported by an IMHRO Rising Star Depression Research Award in Memory of George Largay and R21MH115395. ACW and JL were supported by R21MH115395 to SCD. JAJ was supported by R01MH54137 and CK by R01MH093672.

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Correspondence to Stephanie C. Dulawa.

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Welch, A.C., Zhang, J., Lyu, J. et al. Dopamine D2 receptor overexpression in the nucleus accumbens core induces robust weight loss during scheduled fasting selectively in female mice. Mol Psychiatry (2019).

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