Tartrazine is an artificial azo dye commonly used in human food and pharmaceutical products. The present study was conducted to evaluate the toxic effect of tartrazine on the learning and memory functions in mice and rats. Animals were administered different doses of tartrazine for a period of 30 d and were evaluated by open-field test, step-through test, and Morris water maze test, respectively. Furthermore, the biomarkers of the oxidative stress and pathohistology were also measured to explore the possible mechanisms involved. The results indicated that tartrazine extract significantly enhanced active behavioral response to the open field, increased the escape latency in Morris water maze test and decreased the retention latency in step-through tests. The decline in the activities of catalase, glutathione peroxidase (GSH-Px), and superoxide dismutase (SOD) as well as a rise in the level of malonaldehyde (MDA) were observed in the brain of tartrazine-treated rats, and these changes were associated with the brain from oxidative damage. The dose levels of tartrazine in the present study produced a few adverse effects in learning and memory functions in animals. The mechanisms might be attributed to promoting lipid peroxidation products and reactive oxygen species, inhibiting endogenous antioxidant defense enzymes and the brain tissue damage.
Practical application: Tartrazine is an artificial azo dye commonly used in human food and pharmaceutical products. Since the last assessment carried out by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives in 1964, many new studies have been conducted. However, there is a little information about the effects on learning and memory performance. The present study was conducted to evaluate the toxic effect of tartrazine on the learning and memory functions in animals and its possible mechanism involved. Based on our results, we believe that more extensive assessment of food additives in current use is warranted.
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