The effect of dietary intervention on the metabolic and behavioural impairments generated by short term high fat feeding in the rat

A. D. McNeilly (Lead / Corresponding author), A. Gao, A. Y. Hill, T. Gomersall, D. J. K. Balfour, C. Sutherland, C. A. Stewart

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    Previous studies have shown that rats fed a high calorie diet rich in saturated fat for 12weeks exhibit peripheral insulin resistance and impairments of behavioural flexibility when switched from an operant delayed matching to place (DMTP) schedule to a delayed non-matching to place (DNMTP) schedule. However, the metabolic changes evoked by feeding a high fat (HF) diet can be observed within two weeks of commencing the diet. The current study has confirmed that 4weeks exposure to an HF diet resulted in increased body weight, peripheral insulin resistance and plasma leptin. Studies performed during weeks 3 and 4 on the HF diet revealed suppressed lever pressing rates and impaired behavioural flexibility in the operant DMTP/DNMTP task. When animals fed the HF diet were then returned to a standard chow (SC) diet for 5weeks their weight and blood biochemistry no longer differed from those measured in animals that had never been exposed to the HF diet. The animals restored to the SC diet exhibited a clear ability to acquire the DNMTP schedule of reinforcement although these animals continued to lever press at a lower rate when compared with animals that received the SC diet throughout. The data suggest that exposure to an HF diet diminishes the motivation to respond for a reward and, thus, the capacity to adapt behavioural performance. This deficit was ameliorated, but not totally reversed, by the dietary intervention. If also true for humans, the results suggest that deficits in behavioural flexibility develop after only a short period on a high calorie diet but may be largely reversible through simple dietary intervention, at least in the early stages of deficit development. However, the putative effects of short-term exposure to an HF diet on behavioural motivation may persist for some time after switching to a healthier low fat diet and remain a problem for those seeking to adopt a healthier diet.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)100-109
    Number of pages10
    JournalPhysiology & Behavior
    Early online date3 Sept 2016
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016


    • High fat diet
    • Type 2 diabetes
    • Operant behaviour
    • Behavioural flexibility


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