Neurobiochemical Alterations Induced by the Artificial Sweetener Aspartame (NutraSweet®)

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Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology







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The dipeptide aspartame (NutraSweet) is a newly approved and widely used artificial sweetener in foods and beverages. Consumption of aspartame (ASM) has been reported to be responsible for neurologic and behavioral disturbances in sensitive individuals. Unfasted male CD-1 mice were dosed orally with 13, 130, or 650 mg/kg ASM in corn oil, while control animals received corn oil alone. Three hours after dosing, the animals were killed, and the concentrations of the catecholamines norepinephrine (NE) and dopamine (DA), catecholamine metabolites 3-methoxy-4-hydroxymandelic acid (VMA), homovanillic acid (HVA), and dihydroxyphenylacetic acid (DOPAC), the indoleamine serotonin (5-HT), and its metabolite 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5-HIAA) were determined by electrochemical high-performance liquid chromatography in six brain regions. ASM exerted its primary effect on adrenergic neurotransmitters in various brain regions. In the hypothalamus, the region richest in NE, increases in NE concentrations of 12, 49, and 47% were found in the low, medium, and high dose groups, respectively, relative to control. Significant increases of NE in the medulla oblongata and corpus striatum were also observed. Increases of the catecholamine DA and catecholamine metabolites VMA, HVA, and DOPAC were seen in various regions. The indoleamine serotonin and its metabolite 5-HIAA were unaffected by ASM treatment. These findings are consistent with ASM-induced increases in the brain catecholamine precursor amino acids phenylalanine and tyrosine, as reported earlier. Such observed alterations in brain neurotransmitter concentrations may be responsible for the reported clinical and behavioral effects associated with ASM ingestion.


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