Neuropsychological and biochemical investigations in heterozygotes for phenylketonuria during ingestion of high dose aspartame (a sweetener containing phenylalanine)

Hum Genet. 1994 Apr;93(4):369-74. doi: 10.1007/BF00201660.


Aspartame, a high intensity sweetener, is used extensively worldwide in over 5,000 products. Upon ingestion, aspartame is completely metabolized to two amino acids and methanol (approximately 50% phenylalanine, 40% aspartic acid, and 10% methanol). The effects of aspartame on cognitive function, electroencephalograms (EEGs) and biochemical parameters were evaluated in 48 adult (21 men, 27 women) heterozygotes for phenylketonuria (PKUH), PKUH subjects whose carrier status had been proven by DNA analysis ingested aspartame (either 15 or 45 mg/kg/day) and placebo for 12 weeks on each treatment using a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study. A computerized battery of neuropsychological tests was administered at baseline weeks -2 and -1, and during treatment at weeks 6, 12, 18, and 24. Samples for plasma amino acids and urinary organic acids were also collected during these visits. EEGs were evaluated by conventional and spectral analysis at baseline week -1 and treatment weeks 12 and 24. The results of the neuropsychological tests demonstrated that aspartame had no effect on cognitive function. Plasma phenylalanine significantly increased, within the normal range for PKUH, at 1 and 3 h following the morning dose of aspartame in the group receiving the 45 mg/kg per day dose only. There were no significant differences in the conventional or spectral EEG analyses, urinary organic acid concentrations, and adverse experiences when aspartame was compared with placebo. This study reaffirms the safety of aspartame in PKUH and refutes the speculation that aspartame affects cognitive performance, EEGs, and urinary organic acids.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aspartame / administration & dosage
  • Aspartame / pharmacology*
  • Electroencephalography / drug effects*
  • Female
  • Heterozygote*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Processes / drug effects*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Phenylketonurias / genetics*
  • Phenylketonurias / metabolism
  • Phenylketonurias / physiopathology
  • Phenylketonurias / psychology


  • Aspartame