Excessive sucrose consumption elicits addiction-like craving that may underpin the obesity epidemic. Opioids and dopamine mediate the rewarding effects of drugs of abuse, and of natural rewards from stimuli such as palatable food. We investigated the effects of sucrose using PET imaging with [11C]carfentanil (μ-opioid receptor agonist) and [11C]raclopride (dopamineD2/3receptor antagonist) in seven female anesthetized Göttingen minipigs. We then gave minipigs access to sucrose solution for one hour on 12 consecutive days and performed imaging again 24 hours after the final sucrose access. In a smaller sample of five minipigs, we performed an additional [11C]carfentanil PET session after the first sucrose exposure. We calculated voxel-wise binding potentials (BPND) using the cerebellum as a region of non-displaceable binding, analyzed differences with statistical non-parametric mapping, and performed a regional analysis. After 12 days of sucrose access, BPND of both tracers had declined significantly in striatum, nucleus accumbens, thalamus, amygdala, cingulate cortex and prefrontal cortex, consistent with down-regulation of receptor densities. After a single exposure to sucrose, we found decreased binding of [11C]carfentanil in nucleus accumbens and cingulate cortex, consistent with opioid release. The lower availability of opioid and dopamine receptors may explain the addictive potential associated with intake of sucrose.
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