Food and Behaviour Research

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Excessive sugar intake alters binding to dopamine and mu-opioid receptors in the brain.

Colantuoni C, Schwenker J, McCarthy J, Rada P, Ladenheim B, Cadet JL, Schwartz GJ, Moran TH, Hoebel BG. (2001) Neuroreport.  12(16) 3549-52. 

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Abstract:

Palatable food stimulates neural systems implicated in drug dependence; thus sugar might have effects like a drug of abuse.

Rats were given 25% glucose solution with chow for 12 h followed by 12 h of food deprivation each day. They doubled their glucose intake in 10 days and developed a pattern of excessive intake in the first hour of daily access.

After 30 days, receptor binding was compared to chow-fed controls. Dopamine D-1 receptor binding increased significantly in the accumbens core and shell. In contrast, D-2 binding decreased in the dorsal striatum. Binding to dopamine transporter increased in the midbrain. Opioid mu-1 receptor binding increased significantly in the cingulate cortex, hippocampus, locus coeruleus and accumbens shell.

Thus, intermittent, excessive sugar intake sensitized D-1 and mu-1 receptors much like some drugs of abuse.