Scope: To elucidate the morphological and biochemical in vitro effects exerted by caffeine, taurine, and guarana, alone or in combination, since they are major components in energy drinks (EDs).
Methods and results: On human neuronal SH-SY5Y cells, caffeine (0.125-2 mg/mL), taurine (1-16 mg/mL), and guarana (3.125-50 mg/mL) showed concentration-dependent nonenzymatic antioxidant potential, decreased the basal levels of free radical generation, and reduced both superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase (CAT) activities, especially when combined together. However, guarana-treated cells developed signs of neurite degeneration in the form of swellings at various segments in a beaded or pearl chain-like appearance and fragmentation of such neurites at concentrations ranging from 12.5 to 50 mg/mL. Swellings, but not neuritic fragmentation, were detected when cells were treated with 0.5 mg/mL (or higher doses) of caffeine, concentrations that are present in EDs. Cells treated with guarana also showed qualitative signs of apoptosis, including membrane blebbing, cell shrinkage, and cleaved caspase-3 positivity. Flow cytometric analysis confirmed that cells treated with 12.5-50 mg/mL of guarana and its combinations with caffeine and/or taurine underwent apoptosis.
Conclusion: Excessive removal of intracellular reactive oxygen species, to nonphysiological levels (or "antioxidative stress"), could be a cause of in vitro toxicity induced by these drugs.