Sucrose activates human taste pathways differently from artificial sweetener

Neuroimage. 2008 Feb 15;39(4):1559-69. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2007.10.061. Epub 2007 Nov 19.


Animal models suggest that sucrose activates taste afferents differently than non-caloric sweeteners. Little information exists how artificial sweeteners engage central taste pathways in the human brain. We assessed sucrose and sucralose taste pleasantness across a concentration gradient in 12 healthy control women and applied 10% sucrose and matched sucralose during functional magnet resonance imaging. The results indicate that (1) both sucrose and sucralose activate functionally connected primary taste pathways; (2) taste pleasantness predicts left insula response; (3) sucrose elicits a stronger brain response in the anterior insula, frontal operculum, striatum and anterior cingulate, compared to sucralose; (4) only sucrose, but not sucralose, stimulation engages dopaminergic midbrain areas in relation to the behavioral pleasantness response. Thus, brain response distinguishes the caloric from the non-caloric sweetener, although the conscious mind could not. This could have important implications on how effective artificial sweeteners are in their ability to substitute sugar intake.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Afferent Pathways / drug effects*
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Cerebral Cortex / drug effects
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Dopamine / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Reward
  • Sucrose / analogs & derivatives
  • Sucrose / pharmacology*
  • Sweetening Agents / pharmacology*
  • Taste / drug effects*
  • Taste Buds / drug effects
  • Taste Buds / physiology


  • Sweetening Agents
  • Sucrose
  • trichlorosucrose
  • Dopamine