Functional magnetic resonance imaging of human hypothalamic responses to sweet taste and calories

Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Nov;82(5):1011-6. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/82.5.1011.


Background: Evidence exists that beverages do not trigger appropriate anticipatory physiologic responses, such as cephalic phase insulin release. Therefore, it is of interest to elucidate the food properties necessary for triggering adaptive responses. Previously, we found a prolonged dose-dependent decrease in the hypothalamic functional magnetic resonance imaging signal after ingestion of a glucose solution.

Objectives: The aims of the present study were to measure the effects of sweet taste and energy content on the hypothalamic response to glucose ingestion and to measure the concomitant changes in blood glucose and insulin concentrations.

Design: Five healthy, normal-weight men participated in a randomized crossover design trial. The subjects were scanned 4 times for 37 min on separate days with functional magnetic resonance imaging. After 7 min, they ingested 1 of the following 4 stimuli (300 mL of each): water (control), a glucose solution, an aspartame (sweet taste) solution, or a maltodextrin (nonsweet carbohydrate) solution.

Results: Glucose ingestion resulted in a prolonged and significant signal decrease in the upper hypothalamus (P < 0.05). Water, aspartame, and maltodextrin had no such effect. Glucose and maltodextrin ingestions resulted in similar increases in blood glucose and insulin concentrations. However, only glucose triggered an early rise in insulin concentrations. Aspartame did not trigger any insulin response.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that both sweet taste and energy content are required for a hypothalamic response. The combination of sweet taste and energy content could be crucial in triggering adaptive responses to sweetened beverages.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aspartame / administration & dosage
  • Aspartame / pharmacology
  • Beverages*
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism*
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Digestion
  • Energy Intake / physiology*
  • Glucose / administration & dosage
  • Glucose / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamus / anatomy & histology
  • Hypothalamus / physiology*
  • Insulin / metabolism*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Polysaccharides / administration & dosage
  • Polysaccharides / pharmacology
  • Sweetening Agents / administration & dosage
  • Sweetening Agents / pharmacology
  • Taste / drug effects
  • Taste / physiology*


  • Blood Glucose
  • Insulin
  • Polysaccharides
  • Sweetening Agents
  • maltodextrin
  • Glucose
  • Aspartame