Previous studies have shown reduced hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal responses to both acute and chronic restraint stressors in rats allowed to ingest highly palatable foods (32% sucrose ± lard) prior to restraint. In this study we tested the effects of prior access (7 d) to chow-only, sucrose/chow, lard/chow, or sucrose/lard/chow diets on central corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) expression in rats studied in two experiments, 15 and 240 min after onset of restraint. Fat depot, particularly intraabdominal fat, weights were increased by prior access to palatable food, and circulating leptin concentrations were elevated in all groups. Metabolite concentrations were appropriate for values obtained after stressors. For unknown reasons, the 15-min experiment did not replicate previous results. In the 240-min experiment, ACTH and corticosterone responses were inhibited, as previously, and CRF mRNA in the hypothalamus and oval nucleus of the bed nuclei of the stria terminalis were reduced by palatable foods, suggesting strongly that both neuroendocrine and autonomic outflows are decreased by increased caloric deposition and palatable food. In the central nucleus of the amygdala, CRF was increased in the sucrose-drinking group and decreased in the sucrose/lard group, suggesting that the consequence of ingestion of sucrose uses different neural networks from the ingestion of lard. The results suggest strongly that ingestion of highly palatable foods reduces activity in the central stress response network, perhaps reducing the feeling of stressors
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