The neural basis of sugar preference.
When it comes to food, one tempting substance is sugar. Although sweetness is detected by the tongue, the desire to consume sugar arises from the gut. Even when sweet taste is impaired, animals can distinguish sugars from non-nutritive sweeteners guided by sensory cues arising from the gut epithelium. Here, we review the molecular receptors, cells, circuits and behavioural consequences associated with sugar sensing in the gut. Recent work demonstrates that some duodenal cells, termed neuropod cells, can detect glucose using sodium-glucose co-transporter 1 and release glutamate onto vagal afferent neurons. Based on these and other data, we propose a model in which specific populations of vagal neurons relay these sensory cues to distinct sets of neurons in the brain, including neurons in the caudal nucleus of the solitary tract, dopaminergic reward circuits in the basal ganglia and homeostatic feeding circuits in the hypothalamus, that alter current and future sugar consumption. This emerging model highlights the critical role of the gut in sensing the chemical properties of ingested nutrients to guide appetitive decisions.
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