Neuronal Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor Modulators Reduce Sugar Intake

PLoS One. 2016 Mar 30;11(3):e0150270. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0150270. eCollection 2016.


Excess sugar consumption has been shown to contribute directly to weight gain, thus contributing to the growing worldwide obesity epidemic. Interestingly, increased sugar consumption has been shown to repeatedly elevate dopamine levels in the nucleus accumbens (NAc), in the mesolimbic reward pathway of the brain similar to many drugs of abuse. We report that varenicline, an FDA-approved nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) partial agonist that modulates dopamine in the mesolimbic reward pathway of the brain, significantly reduces sucrose consumption, especially in a long-term consumption paradigm. Similar results were observed with other nAChR drugs, namely mecamylamine and cytisine. Furthermore, we show that long-term sucrose consumption increases α4β2 * and decreases α6β2* nAChRs in the nucleus accumbens, a key brain region associated with reward. Taken together, our results suggest that nAChR drugs such as varenicline may represent a novel treatment strategy for reducing sugar consumption.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alkaloids / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Azocines / pharmacology
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical
  • Food Preferences / drug effects*
  • Male
  • Mecamylamine / pharmacology
  • Nicotinic Agonists / pharmacology*
  • Nicotinic Antagonists / pharmacology*
  • Nucleus Accumbens / metabolism
  • Quinolizines / pharmacology
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / metabolism
  • Sucrose / metabolism*
  • Varenicline / pharmacology


  • Alkaloids
  • Azocines
  • Nicotinic Agonists
  • Nicotinic Antagonists
  • Quinolizines
  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • cytisine
  • Sucrose
  • Mecamylamine
  • Varenicline

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/M9.FIGSHARE.2068161