Competing motivational drives coordinate behaviors essential for survival. For example, interoceptive feedback from the body during a state of negative energy balance serves to suppress anxiety-like behaviors and promote exploratory behaviors in rats. Results from past research suggest that this shift in motivated behavior is linked to reduced activation of specific neural populations within the caudal nucleus of the solitary tract (cNTS). However, the potential impact of metabolic state and the potential role of cNTS neurons on conditioned avoidance behaviors has not been examined. The present study investigated these questions in male and female rats, using a task in which rats learn to avoid a context (i.e., a darkened chamber) after it is paired with a single mild footshock. When rats later were tested for passive avoidance of the shock-paired chamber, male rats tested in an overnight food-deprived state and female rats (regardless of feeding status) displayed significantly less avoidance compared to male rats that were fed ad libitum prior to testing. Based on prior evidence that prolactin-releasing peptide (PrRP)-positive noradrenergic neurons and glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP1)-positive neurons within the cNTS are particularly sensitive to metabolic state, we examined whether these neural populations are activated in conditioned rats after re-exposure to the shock-paired chamber, and whether neural activation is modulated by metabolic state. Compared to the control condition, chamber re-exposure activated PrRP+ noradrenergic neurons and also activated neurons within the anterior ventrolateral bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (vlBNST), which receives dense input from PrRP+ terminals. In parallel with sex differences in passive avoidance behavior, PrRP+ neurons were less activated in female vs. male rats after chamber exposure. GLP1+ neurons were not activated in either sex. Overnight food deprivation before chamber re-exposure reduced activation of PrRP+ neurons, and also reduced vlBNST activation. Our results support the view that PrRP+ noradrenergic neurons and their inputs to the vlBNST contribute to the expression of passive avoidance memory, and that this contribution is modulated by metabolic state.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience