Immunological aspects of the common food colorants, amaranth and tartrazine

Vet Hum Toxicol. 1998 Feb;40(1):1-4.


We describe a sensitive and reproducible microassay model using human peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBL) for discrimination between the cytotoxic and immunosuppressive effects of food colorants such as amaranth and tartrazine. The cytotoxic effects of a wide range of concentrations of these substances were studied on human PBL by the colorimetric in vitro cytotoxicity assays, neutral red uptake (NR) and thiazolyl blue tetrazolium bromide (MTT). The immunotoxic properties of these 2 substances were determined by a [3H]-thymidine DNA incorporation assay on phytohemagglutinin stimulated or non-stimulated lymphocytes, as well as by a Cr51 release Natural Killer assays. The results showed clear immunosuppressive effects from the 2 substances tested, although the concentrations chosen for this study proved to be non-cytotoxic by NR and MTT cytotoxic endpoints.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amaranth Dye / toxicity*
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cytotoxicity, Immunologic / drug effects
  • DNA / biosynthesis
  • Food Coloring Agents / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Killer Cells, Natural / drug effects
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Lymphocyte Depletion
  • Neutral Red
  • Phytohemagglutinins
  • T-Lymphocytes / drug effects*
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Tartrazine / toxicity*
  • Tetrazolium Salts
  • Thiazoles
  • Thymidine


  • Food Coloring Agents
  • Phytohemagglutinins
  • Tetrazolium Salts
  • Thiazoles
  • Neutral Red
  • DNA
  • Amaranth Dye
  • thiazolyl blue
  • Tartrazine
  • Thymidine