Low-calorie sweetener (LCS) consumption in children has increased dramatically due to its widespread presence in the food environment and efforts to mitigate obesity through sugar replacement. However, mechanistic studies on the long-term impact of early-life LCS consumption on cognitive function and physiological processes are lacking. Here, we developed a rodent model to evaluate the effects of daily LCS consumption (acesulfame potassium, saccharin, or stevia) during adolescence on adult metabolic, behavioral, gut microbiome, and brain transcriptomic outcomes. Results reveal that habitual early-life LCS consumption impacts normal postoral glucose handling and impairs hippocampal-dependent memory in the absence of weight gain. Furthermore, adolescent LCS consumption yielded long-term reductions in lingual sweet taste receptor expression and brought about alterations in sugar-motivated appetitive and consummatory responses. While early-life LCS consumption did not produce robust changes in the gut microbiome, brain region–specific RNA-Seq analyses reveal LCS-induced changes in collagen- and synaptic signaling–related gene pathways in the hippocampus and nucleus accumbens, respectively, in a sex-dependent manner. Collectively, these results reveal that habitual early-life LCS consumption has long-lasting implications for glucoregulation, sugar-motivated behavior, and hippocampal-dependent memory in rats, which may be based in part on changes in nutrient transporter, sweet taste receptor, and central gene pathway expression.
Linda Tsan, Sandrine Chometton, Anna M.R. Hayes, Molly E. Klug, Yanning Zuo, Shan Sun, Lana Bridi, Rae Lan, Anthony A. Fodor, Emily E. Noble, Xia Yang, Scott E. Kanoski, Lindsey A. Schier
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