A researcher at the University of Michigan has provided a deeper insight into how organisms distinguish between real sugar and artificial sweetener. The study highlights how the brain of a fruit fly differentiates between the two.
Monica Dus, assistant professor in the U-M Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, said, "Because the molecular machinery is present in the guts and brains of humans on a larger scale, human brains will differentiate in the same way."
For the study, scientists deprived the fruit flies of food for several hours and then gave them a choice between diet, non-nutritive sweeteners and real sugar. As the flies licked the real sugar, it activated a group of six neurons that released a hormone with receptors in both the gut and brain. This hormone let the fly know that it was receiving nutrition. On the other hand, when it licked the diet sweetener, the same hormone was not released.
Furthermore, throughout the study period, the flies always abandoned the sweetener for the real sugar. If our brains work in a similar way, this may help explain why many diet foods seem less satisfying to some people, potentially resulting in weight gain.
The study is published in Neuron.