Aspartame-fed zebrafish exhibit acute deaths with swimming defects and saccharin-fed zebrafish have elevation of cholesteryl ester transfer protein activity in hypercholesterolemia

Food Chem Toxicol. 2011 Nov;49(11):2899-905. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2011.08.001. Epub 2011 Aug 10.


Although many artificial sweeteners (AS) have safety issues, the AS have been widely used in industry. To determine the physiologic effect of AS in the presence of hyperlipidemia, zebrafish were fed aspartame or saccharin with a high-cholesterol diet (HCD). After 12 days, 30% of zebrafish, which consumed aspartame and HCD, died with exhibiting swimming defects. The aspartame group had 65% survivability, while the control and saccharin groups had 100% survivability. Under HCD, the saccharin-fed groups had the highest increase in the serum cholesterol level (599 mg/dL). Aspartame-fed group showed a remarkable increase in serum glucose (up to 125 mg/dL), which was 58% greater than the increase in the HCD alone group. The saccharin and HCD groups had the highest cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) activity (52% CE-transfer), while the HCD alone group had 42% CE-transfer. Histologic analysis revealed that the aspartame and HCD groups showed more infiltration of inflammatory cells in the brain and liver sections. Conclusively, under presence of hyperlipidemia, aspartame-fed zebrafish exhibited acute swimming defects with an increase in brain inflammation. Saccharin-fed zebrafish had an increased atherogenic serum lipid profile with elevation of CETP activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aspartame / toxicity*
  • Blood Glucose
  • Cholesterol Ester Transfer Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cholesterol, Dietary / adverse effects*
  • Diet
  • Hypercholesterolemia / chemically induced*
  • Hypercholesterolemia / mortality
  • Saccharin / toxicity*
  • Sweetening Agents / toxicity
  • Swimming*
  • Zebrafish


  • Blood Glucose
  • Cholesterol Ester Transfer Proteins
  • Cholesterol, Dietary
  • Sweetening Agents
  • Saccharin
  • Aspartame