Some of the neurones controlling sleep, appetite and hormone release act as specialized detectors of ambient glucose. Their sugar sensing is conventionally thought to involve glucokinase-dependent metabolism of glucose to ATP, which then alters membrane excitability by modulating ATP-dependent channels or transporters, such as ATP-inhibited K(+) channels (K(ATP)). However, recent studies also provide examples of both glucose-excited (GE) and glucose-inhibited (GI) neurones that sense glucose independently of such metabolic pathways. Two-thirds of hypothalamic GE neurones in primary cultures are also excited by the non-metabolizable glucose analogue alpha-methylglucopyranoside (alpha-MDG), which acts as a substrate for electrogenic (depolarizing) sodium-glucose cotransporter (SGLT). The excitatory responses to both glucose and alpha-MDG are abolished by arresting SGLT activity by sodium removal or the SGLT inhibitor phloridzin. Direct depolarization and excitation by glucose-triggered SGLT activity may ensure that GE neurones continue to sense glucose in 'high-energy' states, when K(ATP) channels are closed. A major class of hypothalamic GI neurones, the orexin/hypocretin cells, also appear to use a non-metabolic sensing strategy. In these cells, glucose-induced hyperpolarization and inhibition are unaffected by glucokinase inhibitors such as alloxan, D-glucosamine, and N-acetyl-D-glucosamine, and mimicked by the non-metabolizable glucose analogue 2-deoxyglucose, but not by stimulating intracellular ATP production with lactate. The dissociation between sensing and metabolism of sugar may allow the brain to predict and prevent adverse changes in extracellular glucose levels with minimal impact on the flow of intracellular fuel.