Understanding safety of glutamate in food and brain

Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. Jul-Sep 2007;51(3):216-34.


Glutamate is ubiquitous in nature and is present in all living organisms. It is the principal excitatory neurotransmitter in central nervous system. Glutamate is being used as food additive for enhancing flavour for over last 1200 years imparting a unique taste known as "umami" in Japanese. It is being marketed for about last 100 years. The taste of umami is now recognized as the fifth basic taste. Many of the foods used in cooking for enhancing flavour contain high amount of glutamate. Breast milk has the highest concentration of glutamate amongst all amino acids. Glutamate in high doses as gavage or parenteral injection have been reported to produce neurodegeneration in infant rodents. The neurodegeneration was not produced when gluamate was given with food. The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives, based on enumerable scientific evidence, has declared that, "glutamate as an additive in food" is not an health hazard to human being. Glutamate is used as signaling molecule not only in neuronal but also in non-neuronal tissues. Excessive accumulation of glutamate in the synaptic cleft has been associated with excitotoxicty and glutamate is implicated in number of neurological disorders. Excessive accumulation could be attributed to increase release, failure of transport system for uptake mechanism, neuronal injury due to hypoxia-ischemia, trauma and associated metabolic failures. The role blood brain barrier, vesicular glutamate and sodium dependent excitatory amino acid transporters in glutamate homeostasis are emphasized in the review.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / metabolism*
  • Food Additives / metabolism*
  • Food Additives / pharmacokinetics
  • Food Additives / toxicity
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism*
  • Glutamic Acid / pharmacokinetics
  • Glutamic Acid / toxicity
  • Humans
  • Milk, Human / metabolism
  • Nerve Degeneration / chemically induced
  • Nerve Degeneration / physiopathology
  • Species Specificity


  • Food Additives
  • Glutamic Acid