Excitotoxic food additives--relevance of animal studies to human safety

Neurobehav Toxicol Teratol. Nov-Dec 1984;6(6):455-62.


Evidence is reviewed supporting the view that excitotoxic food additives pose a significant hazard to the developing nervous system of young children. The following points are stressed: (1) although blood-brain barriers protect most central neurons from excitotoxins, certain brain regions lack such protection (a characteristic common to all vertebrate species); (2) regardless of species, it requires only a transient increase in blood excitotoxin levels for neurons in unprotected brain regions to be "silently" destroyed; (3) humans may be at particularly high risk for this kind of brain damage, since ingestion of a given amount of excitotoxin causes much higher blood excitotoxin levels in humans than in other species; (4) in addition to the heightened risk on a species basis, risk may be further increased for certain consumer sub-populations due to youth, disease or genetic factors; (5) despite these reasons for maintaining a wide margin of safety in the use of excitotoxins in foods, no safety margin is currently being observed, i.e., a comparative evaluation of animal (extensive) and human (limited) data supports the conclusion that excitotoxins, as used in foods today, may produce blood elevations high enough to cause damage to the nervous system of young children, damage which is not detectable at the time of occurrence but which may give rise to subtle disturbances in neuroendocrine function in adolescence and/or adulthood.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Aspartame / toxicity
  • Aspartic Acid / analogs & derivatives
  • Aspartic Acid / toxicity*
  • Blood-Brain Barrier
  • Cricetinae
  • Cysteine / analogs & derivatives
  • Cysteine / toxicity
  • Endocrine System Diseases / chemically induced
  • Food Additives / toxicity*
  • Glutamates / toxicity*
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamic Diseases / chemically induced
  • Intestinal Absorption
  • Male
  • Mice
  • N-Methylaspartate
  • Nervous System Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Neurosecretory Systems
  • Pituitary Diseases / chemically induced
  • Protein Hydrolysates / toxicity
  • Rats
  • Species Specificity


  • Food Additives
  • Glutamates
  • Protein Hydrolysates
  • Aspartic Acid
  • Glutamic Acid
  • N-Methylaspartate
  • S-sulphocysteine
  • Cysteine
  • Aspartame