Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Pharmaceutical Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Linda P. Dwoskin


Obesity and drug abuse share common neural circuitries including the mesocoticolimbic and striatal dopamine reward system. In the current study, a rat model of diet-induced obesity (DIO) was used to determine striatal dopamine function, impulsivity and motivation as neurobehavioral outcomes and predictors of obesity. For the outcome study, rats were randomly assigned a high-fat (HF) or a low-fat (LF) diet for 8 wk. Following the 8-wk HF-diet exposure, rats were segregated into obesity-prone and obesity-resistant groups based on maximum and minimum body weight gain, respectively, and neurobehavioral outcomes were evaluated. For the predictor study, neurobehavioral antecedents were evaluated prior to an 8-wk high-fat diet exposure and were correlated with subsequent body weight gain. Striatal D2 receptor density was determined by in vitro kinetic analysis of [3H]raclopride binding. DAT function was determined using in vitro kinetic analysis of [3H]dopamine uptake, methamphetamine-evoked [3H]dopamine overflow and no net flux in vivo microdialysis. DAT cell-surface expression was determined using biotinylation and Western blotting. Impulsivity and food-motivated behavior were determined using a delay discounting task and progressive ratio schedule for food-reinforcers, respectively. Relative to obesity-resistant, obesity-prone rats exhibited 18% greater body weight, 42% lower striatal D2 receptor density, 30% lower total DAT expression, 40% lower in vitro and in vivo DAT function, 45% greater extracellular dopamine concentration, and 2-fold greater methamphetamine-evoked [3H]dopamine overflow. Obesity-prone rats exhibited higher motivation for food, but were less impulsive relative to obesity-resistant rats. Neurobehavioral antecedents of DIO included greater motivation for high-fat reinforcers in rats subsequently shown to be obesity-prone relative to obesity-resistant. Impulsivity, DAT function and extracellular dopamine concentration did not predict the DIO-phenotype. Thus, motivation for food is linked to both initiation and maintenance of obesity. Importantly, obesity results in decreased striatal DAT function, which may underlie the maintenance of compulsive food intake in obesity.