The present studies were undertaken to determine the effect of various carbohydrates on sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activity. Tritiated-norepinephrine (3H-NE) turnover was measured in heart and interscapular brown adipose tissue (IBAT) of rats fed either chow or chow plus 50% caloric supplements of fructose, sucrose, dextrose, or corn starch. Additional studies were performed to examine whether absorption of carbohydrate plays a role in the SNS response, and to determine whether sweet taste in the form of artificial sweeteners may influence SNS activity. After five to ten days on the respective diets, 3H-NE turnover was increased to a similar extent by all carbohydrates tested (from 38% to 160% greater than controls in different studies). Addition of acarbose (which impairs sucrose absorption) to a sucrose-supplemented diet abolished the SNS stimulatory response, whereas cholestyramine (a drug that blocks fat absorption) had no effect. Finally, the addition of saccharin or aspartame to a chow diet failed to alter SNS activity. Thus, caloric supplementation with several carbohydrates, in addition to sucrose, stimulates both cardiac and IBAT SNS activity, absorption of carbohydrate is required for this effect, and noncaloric sugar substitutes do not alter SNS function.