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Synapse. 2012 Apr;66(4):346-51. doi: 10.1002/syn.21519. Epub 2011 Dec 29.

Sucrose-predictive cues evoke greater phasic dopamine release than saccharin-predictive cues.

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Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 60607, USA.


Cues that have been paired with food evoke dopamine in nucleus accumbens (NAc) and drive approach behavior. This cue-evoked dopamine signaling could contribute to overconsumption of food. One manner in which individuals try to restrict caloric intake is through the consumption of foods containing artificial (non-nutritive) sweeteners. We were interested in whether cues paired with a non-nutritive sweetener (saccharin) would evoke similar dopamine release as cues paired with a nutritive sweetener (sucrose). We trained food-restricted rats to associate distinct cues with sucrose or saccharin pellets. In the first group of rats, training sessions with each pellet took place on different days, maximizing the opportunity for rats to detect nutritional differences. After training, voltammetry recordings in NAc core revealed that sucrose cues evoked greater phasic dopamine release than saccharin cues. In a second group of rats, on each training day, sucrose and saccharin pellets were presented in pseudorandom order within the same session, to mask nutritional differences. In this condition, the difference in dopamine between sucrose and saccharin cues was attenuated, but not abolished. These results suggest that sucrose-paired cues will more powerfully motivate behavior than saccharin-paired cues. The differing responses to each cue seem to be driven by overall preference with both the nutritional value that the pellets predict as well as other factors, such as taste, contributing.

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