Changes in taste palatability across the estrous cycle are modulated by hypothalamic estradiol signaling.

bioRxiv : the preprint server for biology(2024)

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Food intake varies across the stages of a rat's estrous cycle. It is reasonable to hypothesize that this cyclic fluctuation in consumption reflects an impact of hormones on taste palatability/preference, but evidence for this hypothesis has been mixed, and critical within-subject experiments in which rats sample multiple tastes during each of the four main estrous phases (metestrus, diestrus, proestrus, and estrus) have been scarce. Here, we assayed licking for pleasant (sucrose, NaCl, saccharin) and aversive (quinine-HCl, citric acid) tastes each day for 5-10 days while tracking rats' estrous cycles through vaginal cytology. Initial analyses confirmed the previously-described increased consumption of pleasant stimuli 24-48 hours following the time of high estradiol. A closer look, however, revealed this effect to reflect a general magnification of palatability-higher than normal preferences for pleasant tastes and lower than normal preferences for aversive tastes-during metestrus. We hypothesized that this phenomenon might be related to estradiol processing in the lateral hypothalamus (LH), and tested this hypothesis by inhibiting LH estrogen receptor activity with ICI 182,780 during tasting. Control infusions replicated the metestrus magnification of palatability pattern; ICI infusions blocked this effect as predicted, but failed to render preferences "cycle free," instead delaying the palatability magnification until diestrus. Clearly, estrous phase mediates details of taste palatability in a manner involving hypothalamic actions of estradiol; further work will be needed to explain the lack of a flat response across the cycle with hypothalamic estradiol binding inhibited, a result which perhaps suggests dynamic interplay between brain regions or hormones. Significance Statement:Consummatory behaviors are impacted by many variables, including naturally circulating hormones. While it is clear that consumption is particularly high during the stages following the high-estradiol stage of the rodent's estrous (and human menstrual) cycle, it is as of yet unclear whether this phenomenon reflects cycle stage-specific palatability (i.e., whether pleasant tastes are particularly delicious, and aversive tastes particularly disgusting, at particular phases). Here we show that palatability is indeed modulated by estrous phase, and that this effect is governed, at least in part, by the action of estradiol within the lateral hypothalamus. These findings shed light on the mechanisms underlying the adverse impact on human welfare due to irregularities observed across the otherwise cyclic menstrual process.
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