It is critical for survival to assign positive or negative valence to salient stimuli in a correct manner. Accordingly, harmful stimuli and internal states characterized by perturbed homeostasis are accompanied by discomfort, unease, and aversion. Aversive signaling causes extensive suffering during chronic diseases, including inflammatory conditions, cancer, and depression. Here, we investigated the role of melanocortin 4 receptors (MC4Rs) in aversive processing using genetically modified mice and a behavioral test in which mice avoid an environment that they have learned to associate with aversive stimuli. In normal mice, robust aversions were induced by systemic inflammation, nausea, pain, and κ opioid receptor–induced dysphoria. In sharp contrast, mice lacking MC4Rs displayed preference or indifference toward the aversive stimuli. The unusual flip from aversion to reward in mice lacking MC4Rs was dopamine dependent and associated with a change from decreased to increased activity of the dopamine system. The responses to aversive stimuli were normalized when MC4Rs were reexpressed on dopamine D1 receptor–expressing cells or in the striatum of mice otherwise lacking MC4Rs. Furthermore, activation of arcuate nucleus proopiomelanocortin neurons projecting to the ventral striatum increased the activity of striatal neurons in an MC4R-dependent manner and elicited aversion. Our findings demonstrate that melanocortin signaling through striatal MC4Rs is critical for assigning negative motivational valence to harmful stimuli.
Anna Mathia Klawonn, Michael Fritz, Anna Nilsson, Jordi Bonaventura, Kiseko Shionoya, Elahe Mirrasekhian, Urban Karlsson, Maarit Jaarola, Björn Granseth, Anders Blomqvist, Michael Michaelides, David Engblom
This file is in Adobe Acrobat (PDF) format. If you have not installed and configured the Adobe Acrobat Reader on your system.
PDFs are designed to be printed out and read, but if you prefer to read them online, you may find it easier if you increase the view size to 125%.
Many versions of the free Acrobat Reader do not allow Save. You must instead save the PDF from the JCI Online page you downloaded it from. PC users: Right-click on the Download link and choose the option that says something like "Save Link As...". Mac users should hold the mouse button down on the link to get these same options.