Specialized neurons within the hypothalamus have the ability to sense and respond to changes in ambient glucose concentrations. We investigated the mechanisms underlying glucose-triggered activity in glucose-excited neurons, using primary cultures of rat hypothalamic neurons monitored by fluorescence calcium imaging. We found that 35% (738 of 2,139) of the neurons were excited by increasing glucose from 3 to 15 mmol/l, but only 9% (6 of 64) of these glucose-excited neurons were activated by tolbutamide, suggesting the involvement of a ATP-sensitive K(+) channel-independent mechanism. alpha-Methylglucopyranoside (alphaMDG; 12 mmol/l), a nonmetabolizable substrate of sodium glucose cotransporters (SGLTs), mimicked the effect of high glucose in 67% of glucose-excited neurons, and both glucose- and alphaMDG-triggered excitation were blocked by Na(+) removal or by the SGLT inhibitor phloridzin (100 nmol/l). In the presence of 0.5 mmol/l glucose and tolbutamide, responses could also be triggered by 3.5 mmol/l alphaMDG, supporting a role for an SGLT-associated mechanism at low as well as high substrate concentrations. Using RT-PCR, we detected SGLT1, SGLT3a, and SGLT3b in both cultured neurons and adult rat hypothalamus. Our findings suggest a novel role for SGLTs in glucose sensing by hypothalamic glucose-excited neurons.