The Effects of Environmental Enrichment on Stress-Induced Eating Disturbances in Rats
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
Eating disorders are serious psychological disorders associated with debilitating lifestyle, multiple health problems and high rates of suicidality and mortality. Despite extensive research, the aetiology of eating disorders still remains unclear. Amongst the identified risk factors for eating disorders, stress has been frequently studied. The purpose of the present study was to explore the possibility that tail-pinch administered to rats could provide an animal model of stress-induced eating disturbances in humans, and whether environmental enrichment might ameliorate the effects of stress. In Experiment 1, we compared eating behaviours of rats that were reared in either enriched or standard environments and later exposed to tail-pinch and allowed to eat when food deprived. The study showed that a single exposure to tail-pinch induced eating disturbances in most of the rats. When rats were not food deprived, but were conditioned to eating when placed in test chamber, tail-pinch suppressed eating in all rats, but significantly more for rats reared under standard than in enriched conditions. Experiment 2 used a between-subjects design in which rats were reared in either a standard or enriched environment, and were either exposed to tail-pinch or not exposed during sessions in which they were not food deprived and allowed to eat. Tail-pinch suppressed the food intake of rats reared in enriched but not standard environments. Although this finding appeared to contradict results of Experiment 1, analysis of body weight revealed that exposure to tail pinch suppressed increases in weight gain across sessions more for rats reared in standard than enriched environments. The suppression of food intake during test sessions for enriched but not standard rats exposed to tail-pinch was attributed to differences in contextual conditioning and discrimination of the test chamber from home cages. Overall, results of the present study suggest that rats reared in enriched environments were more resilient to the effects of tail-pinch as a stressor. Implications of these findings for the understanding of human eating disorders are discussed.