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

Neuroreport. 2001 Nov 16;12(16):3549-52. doi: 10.1097/00001756-200111160-00035.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Dietary Sucrose / administration & dosage*
  • Dietary Sucrose / pharmacology*
  • Eating / drug effects
  • Eating / physiology*
  • Female
  • Glucose / pharmacology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu / metabolism*


  • Dietary Sucrose
  • Receptors, Dopamine
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu
  • Glucose