Binge eating, the defining feature of binge eating disorder (BED), is associated with a number of adverse health outcomes as well as a reduced quality of life. Animals, like humans, selectively binge on highly palatable food suggesting that the behaviour is driven by hedonic, rather than metabolic, signals. Given the links to both reward processing and food intake, this study examined the contribution of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) to binge-like eating in rats. Separate groups were given intermittent (12 h) or continuous (24 h) access to 10% sucrose and food over 28 days, with only the 12 h access group displaying excessive sucrose intake within a discrete period of time (i.e., binge eating). Importantly, this group also exhibited alterations in ECS transcripts and endocannabinoid levels in brain reward regions, including an increase in cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1R) mRNA in the nucleus accumbens as well as changes in endocannabinoid levels in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. We then tested whether different doses (1 and 3 mg/kg) of a CB1R antagonist, Rimonabant, modify binge-like intake or the development of a conditioned place preference (CPP) to sucrose. CB1R blockade reduced binge-like intake of sucrose and blocked a sucrose CPP, but only in rats that had undergone 28 days of sucrose consumption. These findings indicate that sucrose bingeing alters the ECS in reward-related areas, modifications that exacerbate the effect of CB1R blockade on sucrose reward. Overall, our results broaden the understanding of neural alterations associated with bingeing eating and demonstrate an important role for CB1R mechanisms in reward processing. In addition, these findings have implications for understanding substance abuse, which is also characterized by excessive and maladaptive intake, pointing towards addictive-like properties of palatable food.
David de Sa Nogueira, Romain Bourdy, Dominique Filliol, Gaëlle Awad, Virginie Andry, Yannick Goumon, Mary C. Olmstead, Katia Befort