OBJECTIVE - We have previously demonstrated that insulin signaling, through the downstream signaling kinase Akt, is a potent modulator of dopamine transporter (DAT) activity, which fine-tunes dopamine (DA) signaling at the synapse. This suggests a mechanism by which impaired neuronal insulin receptor signaling, a hallmark of diet-induced obesity, may contribute to impaired DA transmission. We tested whether a short-term (two-week) obesogenic high-fat (HF) diet could reduce striatal Akt activity, a marker of central insulin, receptor signaling and blunt striatal and dopaminergic network responsiveness to amphetamine (AMPH).
METHODS - We examined the effects of a two-week HF diet on striatal DAT activity in rats, using AMPH as a probe in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) assay, and mapped the disruption in AMPH-evoked functional connectivity between key dopaminergic targets and their projection areas using correlation and permutation analyses. We used phosphorylation of the Akt substrate GSK3α in striatal extracts as a measure of insulin receptor signaling. Finally, we confirmed the impact of HF diet on striatal DA D2 receptor (D2R) availability using [18F]fallypride positron emission tomography (PET).
RESULTS - We found that rats fed a HF diet for only two weeks have reductions in striatal Akt activity, a marker of decreased striatal insulin receptor signaling and blunted striatal responsiveness to AMPH. HF feeding also reduced interactions between elements of the mesolimbic (nucleus accumbens-anterior cingulate) and sensorimotor circuits (caudate/putamen-thalamus-sensorimotor cortex) implicated in hedonic feeding. D2R availability was reduced in HF-fed animals.
CONCLUSION - These studies support the hypothesis that central insulin signaling and dopaminergic neurotransmission are already altered after short-term HF feeding. Because AMPH induces DA efflux and brain activation, in large part via DAT, these findings suggest that blunted central nervous system insulin receptor signaling through a HF diet can impair DA homeostasis, thereby disrupting cognitive and reward circuitry involved in the regulation of hedonic feeding.