Anorexia nervosa (AN), mostly observed in female adolescents, is the most fatal mental illness. Its core is a motivational imbalance between exercise and feeding in favor of the former. The most privileged animal model of AN is the “activity-based anorexia” (ABA) model wherein partly starved rodents housed with running wheels exercise at the expense of feeding. However, the ABA model bears face and construct validity limits, including its inability to specifically assess running motivation and feeding motivation. As infant/adolescent trauma is a precipitating factor in AN, this study first analyzed post-weaning isolation rearing (PWIR) impacts on body weights and wheel-running performances in female mice exposed to an ABA protocol. Next, we studied through operant conditioning protocols i) whether food restriction affects in a sex-dependent manner running motivation before ii) investigating how PWIR and sex affect running and feeding drives under ad libitum fed conditions and food restriction. Besides amplifying ABA-elicited body weight reductions, PWIR stimulated wheel-running activities in anticipation of feeding in female mice, suggesting increased running motivation. To confirm this hypothesis, we used a cued-reward motivated instrumental task wherein wheel-running was conditioned by prior nose poke responses. It was first observed that food restriction increased running motivation in male, but not female, mice. When fed grouped and PWIR mice were tested for their running and palatable feeding drives, all mice, excepted PWIR males, displayed increased nose poke responses for running over feeding. This was true when rewards were proposed alone or within a concurrent test. The increased preference for running over feeding in fed females did not extend to running performances (time, distance) during each rewarded sequence, confirming that motivation for, and performance during, running are independent entities. With food restriction, mice displayed a sex-independent increase in their preference for feeding over running in both group-housed and PWIR conditions. This study shows that the ABA model does not specifically capture running and feeding drives, i.e. components known to be affected in AN.
Imane Hurel, Bastien Redon, Amandine Scocard, Meryl Malezieux, Giovanni Marsicano, Francis Chaouloff
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