Outbred rats differ in their preference for the artificial sweetener sucralose. Psychophysical assessments have shown that the taste of sucralose is differentially generalized to either sucrose or a sucrose-quinine (QHCl) mixture in sucralose preferers (SP) and sucralose avoiders (SA), respectively. It remains to be determined if these differences in the psychophysical assessment of the taste of sucralose are due to an insensitivity to any bitter-like taste component of sucralose in SP or reduced sensitivity to a sweet-like component in SA that may mask any putative aversive side-taste in SP. Here, we exploited the proposed chemotopic organization of the rostral nucleus of the solitary tract (rNTS) to further parse out the root differences in the perception of the salient taste qualities of sucralose using Fos-like immunoreactivity (FLI) to approximate neural activation following intraoral delivery of sucrose, QHCl, and sucralose solutions in previously categorized SA and SP. First, we confirmed previous reports that the medial third of the NTS is primarily responsive to intraoral infusions of the bitter taste stimulus QHCl while sucrose produces a more diffuse pattern of FLI. Upon comparing the FLI generated by intraoral sucralose, we found that the pattern in SA was indistinguishable from that of QHCl while SP displayed a pattern of FLI more representative of a sucrose-QHCl mixture. We conclude that SA, relative to SP, may be less sensitive to the sucrose-like properties of sucralose and that an enhanced sensitivity to these sucrose-like qualities may mask a QHCl-like quality in SP.

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