• food;
  • liking;
  • operant behaviour;
  • opioid system;
  • wanting


Altered motivational processes might participate to the physiopathology of eating-related disorders. The endogenous opioid system is thought to mediate the hedonic properties of food intake. To assess the role for the µ-opioid receptor (MOR) pathway in the motivational properties of food intake, in the present study we tested wild-type and MOR-deficient mice (MOR–/–) in a nose-poke operant paradigm for chow or sucrose pellets. To avoid confounding factors linked to food restriction/deprivation experience, mice were always provided with food ad libitum. Although less MOR–/– than wild-type mice initiated operant behaviour, under a fixed ratio-1 (FR-1) reinforcement schedule the two genotypes showed similar patterns of food-driven nose-poking, indicating preserved cognitive abilities in MOR-deficient mice. However, during FR-3 and progressive ratio (PR) reinforcement experiments, MOR–/– mice showed lower levels of nose-poking for either chow or sucrose pellets than wild-type mice, indicating a crucial role for the MOR pathway in the motivational properties of food intake. Moreover, under the PR reinforcement schedule mice nose-poking for sucrose pellets showed higher genotype-independent breakpoint levels than mice working for chow pellets, indicating that the MOR pathway is not essential for hedonic processing of palatable food intake. Finally, MOR–/– mice did not differ from wild-type mice in the rate of operant responding extinction, further supporting the notion of unaltered cognitive abilities in the MOR-deficient mice. The present findings strongly indicate that the MOR pathway mediates the motivational properties of food intake, but it is not essential for hedonic processing of ingestive behaviour.