Prenatal exposure to artificial food colorings alters NMDA receptor subunit concentrations in rat hippocampus

Nutr Neurosci. 2021 Oct;24(10):784-794. doi: 10.1080/1028415X.2019.1681065. Epub 2019 Nov 4.


Exposure to artificial food color additives (AFCAs) has been implicated in the etiology of certain childhood hyperactivity and learning disabilities. N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors and alpha-7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (α7 nAChR) are involved in learning and memory. We administered a mixture of AFCAs (erythrosine, ponceau 4R, allura red AC, sunset yellow FCF, tartrazine, amaranth, brilliant blue, azorubine, and indigotine) to female rats during gestation to investigate the effects of prenatal exposure to AFCAs on neurobehavior, spatial learning, and memory in their offspring. We also investigated whether AFCAs modulate NR2A, NR2B, and α7 nAChR protein levels in their offsprings' hippocampi. Although spatial learning and memory were not altered, the offspring of rats exposed to AFCAs exhibited decreased motivation and increased despair-related behavior. NR2A and NR2B protein levels were significantly reduced in female offspring in the experimental group (p < 0.05), whereas α7 nAChR level was not significantly altered. Our results suggest that prenatal exposure to AFCAs may lead to sex-dependent alterations in glutamatergic signaling which may continue into adolescence.

Keywords: Artificial food colors; NMDARs; NR2A; NR2B; forced swim test; open field test; spatial learning and memory; α7 nAChR.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Food Coloring Agents* / adverse effects
  • Food Coloring Agents* / metabolism
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects* / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / metabolism
  • Spatial Learning


  • Food Coloring Agents
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate