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Specific Gut Cells Tell Brain Whether Sugar is Real or Artificial

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Laura Rupprecht, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow
Kelly L Buchanan
The Laboratory of Gut Brain Neurobiology
Duke Medicine – GI
Diego V. Bohórquez PhD
Associate Professor in Medicine
Duke Institute for Brain Sciences
Durham, NC

MedicalResearch.com:  What is the background for this study?  What are the main findings?

Response: In 2018, my laboratory discovered that a cell type in the gut epithelium synapses with the vagus nerve, the nerve which connects the gut and the brain. These gut cells are called neuropod cells. Neuropod cells transduce sugar within milliseconds using the neurotransmitter glutamate. Since then, we have been interested in defining how this rapid communication between neuropod cells and the brain regulates behavior. – Diego Bohórquez

Over a decade ago, it was shown that the gut is the key site for discerning sugar and non-caloric sweetener. But the specific cell in the gut that underlies this effect was unknown. – Kelly Buchanan  

MedicalResearch.com:  What are the main findings? Findings true across other sweeteners ie honey or fruit?

Response: We demonstrate that neuropod cells in the small intestine sense both nutritive sugars and artificial sweeteners. The cells convey the difference real and artificial sugars to the brain using distinct molecular receptors and signaling molecules. These different signaling pathways from the neuropod cell directs the animal’s choice for sugar over non-nutritive sweetener. – Kelly Buchanan

We find that the gut sends distinct messages to the brain via the vagus nerve when sugar or sweeteners are consumed. – Maya Kaelberer

Most foods in nature contain carbohydrates which are broken down into glucose molecules when they enter the intestine. The glucose molecule interacts with the neuropod cell which signals rapidly to the brain. – Laura Rupprecht

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: While sugar and sweetener both taste sweet, it is a specific cell in our gut that informs the animal of the differences between the two sweet substances. – Diego Bohórquez

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: Our current work is interrogating how other nutrients or microbes are sensed by neuropod cells to engage specific behaviors. Ultimately we want to decipher how we can treat the brain from the gut. – Diego Bohórquez


Buchanan, K.L., Rupprecht, L.E., Kaelberer, M.M. et al. The preference for sugar over sweetener depends on a gut sensor cell. Nat Neurosci (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41593-021-00982-7 

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Last Updated on January 17, 2022 by Marie Benz MD FAAD