Sugar: A gut choice

You go to the grocery store to pick up milk, and just as you are about to check out, out of the blue, you pick up a chocolate bar. By the time you get to your car, you have already eaten half of it. How could that happen without you even realizing? Very simple – our desire to consume sugar comes from the gut. My laboratory discovered the cells that orchestrate this sugar sense. We called them NEUROPODS. Join us to learn about the discovery of the receptors, cells, molecules, neurons, and feelings orchestrated between the gut and the brain for us to eat sugar.


Dr. Bohórquez is an Associate Professor of Medicine and Neurobiology at Duke University. Dr. Bohórquez’s expertise is in gut-brain sensory transduction. This new field of sensory biology was sparked by Dr. Bohórquez’s discovery of synapses in enteroendocrine cells in 2015. Dr. Bohórquez discovery of a sensory neuroepithelial circuit in the gut (J Clin Invest. 2015;125(2):782)—analogous to that transducing the sense of taste in the tongue—has been featured in Nature, TED ideas blog and The New Yorker.

Dr. Bohórquez opened his laboratory in the fall of 2015. On September 21st, 2018, his laboratory published a research article in Science magazine documenting a neural circuit for the gut to transduce a sense to the brain in milliseconds using glutamate as a neurotransmitter. The circuit is formed by a synaptic link between enteroendocrine cells and the vagus nerve. To account for their neurotransmission function, these gut sensory cells are referred to as neuropod cells. They form the basis of a gut sense that exchanges signals with the brain in real time. This discovery is a paradigm shift in our understanding of how the gut senses nutrients because so far only slow endocrine mechanisms have been described. More recently, Dr. Bohórquez and his team discovered that neuropod cells are necessary and sufficient to drive sugar preferences (Buchanan, Rupprecht, Kaelberer et al. 2022. Nature Neurosci). These discoveries stablished how the gut detects, encodes, and transmits signals from sugars to the brain so an animal can adjust its consumption of the most prevalent macronutrient in nature. This work also uncovered a potential portal for microbial pathogens to access the peripheral and central nervous systems.

Dr. Bohórquez’s work has been recognized by multiple prestigious awards, including: Grass Fellowship in the Neurosciences, Kavli Fellow, Polak Young Investigator Award from the American Association for Chemoreception Sciences, TED Fellows Award, NIH F32 Postdoctoral Fellowship, NIH K01 Career Development Award, and NIH DP2 New Innovator Award. Since beginning his position as faculty in 2015, Dr. Bohórquez has published 14 scientific articles, including 12 as the senior/corresponding author. Of those, 1 is an invited review in Annual Reviews of Neuroscience and 7 are primary research articles published in journals like JCI, Cell, Nature Neuroscience, and Science.