The reduction of azo dyes by the intestinal microflora

Crit Rev Microbiol. 1992;18(3):175-90. doi: 10.3109/10408419209114557.


Azo dyes are widely used in the textile, printing, paper manufacturing, pharmaceutical, and food industries and also in research laboratories. When these compounds either inadvertently or by design enter the body through ingestion, they are metabolized to aromatic amines by intestinal microorganisms. Reductive enzymes in the liver can also catalyze the reductive cleavage of the azo linkage to produce aromatic amines. However, evidence indicates that the intestinal microbial azoreductase may be more important than the liver enzymes in azo reduction. In this article, we examine the significance of the capacity of intestinal bacteria to reduce azo dyes and the conditions of azo reduction. Many azo dyes, such as Acid Yellow, Amaranth, Azodisalicylate, Chicago Sky Blue, Congo Red, Direct Black 38, Direct Blue 6, Direct Blue 15, Direct Brown 95, Fast Yellow, Lithol Red, Methyl Orange, Methyl Red, Methyl Yellow, Naphthalene Fast Orange 2G, Neoprontosil, New Coccine, Orange II, Phenylazo-2-naphthol, Ponceau 3R, Ponceau SX, Red 2G, Red 10B, Salicylazosulphapyridine, Sunset Yellow, Tartrazine, and Trypan Blue, are included in this article. A wide variety of anaerobic bacteria isolated from caecal or fecal contents from experimental animals and humans have the ability to cleave the azo linkage(s) to produce aromatic amines. Azoreductase(s) catalyze these reactions and have been found to be oxygen sensitive and to require flavins for optimal activity. The azoreductase activity in a variety of intestinal preparations was affected by various dietary factors such as cellulose, proteins, fibers, antibiotics, or supplementation with live cultures of lactobacilli.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Azo Compounds / adverse effects
  • Azo Compounds / chemistry
  • Azo Compounds / metabolism*
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Coloring Agents / adverse effects
  • Coloring Agents / chemistry
  • Coloring Agents / metabolism*
  • Diet
  • Humans
  • Intestines / microbiology*
  • Molecular Structure
  • Oxidation-Reduction


  • Azo Compounds
  • Coloring Agents