Sex Differences in Demand for Highly Palatable Foods: Role of the Orexin System

Linnea R. Freeman, Brandon S. Bentzley, Morgan H. James, Gary Aston-Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Background: The prevalence of eating disorders, including binge eating disorder, is significantly higher in women. These findings are mirrored by preclinical studies, which indicate that female rats have a higher preference for palatable food and show greater binge-like eating compared with male rats. Methods: Here, we describe a novel within-session behavioral-economic paradigm that allows for the simultaneous measurement of the intake at null cost (Q0) and normalized demand elasticity (α) of 3 types of palatable food (low fat, high fat, and chocolate sucrose pellets) via demand curve analysis. In light of evidence that the orexin (hypocretin) system is critically involved in reward and feeding behaviors, we also examined the role of orexin function in sex differences of economic demand for palatable foods. Results: The novel within-session behavioral-economic approach revealed that female rats have higher intake (demand) than males for all palatable foods at low cost (normalized to body weight) but no difference in intake at higher prices, indicating sex-dependent differences in the hedonic, but not motivational, aspects of palatable food. Immediately following behavioral-economic testing, we observed more orexin-expressing neurons and Fos expression (measure of recent neural activation) in these neurons in female rats compared with male rats. Moreover, the orexin-1 receptor antagonist SB334867 reduced both low- and high-cost intake for palatable food in both male and female rats. Conclusions: These findings provide evidence of higher demand at low prices for palatable food in females and indicate that these behavioral differences may be associated with sexual dimorphism in orexin system function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)54-63
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


  • Hypocretin
  • SB334867
  • behavioral economics
  • high-fat food
  • motivation
  • sucrose


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