Research links common sweetener to anxiety in mouse studies – Zoo House News
- December 9, 2022
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Florida State University College of Medicine researchers have linked aspartame, an artificial sweetener found in nearly 5,000 diet foods and drinks, to anxiety-like behaviors in mice.
In addition to causing anxiety in the mice that consumed aspartame, the effects lasted up to two generations from the males exposed to the sweetener. The study appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“What this study shows is that we need to look back at the environmental factors, because what we’re seeing today is not just what’s happening today, but also what happened two generations ago and maybe even longer,” said Co -Author Pradeep Bhide, the Jim and Betty Ann Rodgers Eminent Scholar Chair of Developmental Neuroscience in the Department of Biomedical Sciences.
The study arose in part from previous research by the Bhide Lab on the transgenerational effects of nicotine on mice. The research revealed transient, or epigenetic, changes in the sperm cells of mice. Unlike genetic changes (mutations), epigenetic changes are reversible and do not alter the DNA sequence; However, they can change how the body reads a DNA sequence.
“We’ve been working on the same kind of model on the effects of nicotine,” Bhide said. “The father smokes. What happened to the children?”
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved aspartame as a sweetener in 1981. Today almost 5,000 tons are produced annually. When consumed, aspartame turns into aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol, all of which can have powerful effects on the central nervous system.
The study, led by graduate student Sara Jones, involved providing mice with drinking water containing aspartame at about 15% of the FDA-approved maximum daily human intake. The dosing, which equates to six to eight 8-ounce cans of diet soda per day for humans, continued for 12 weeks in a four-year study.
Pronounced fear-like behavior was observed in the mice descended from the aspartame-exposed males by a variety of maze tests over several generations.
“It was such a robust, fear-like trait that I don’t think any of us expected to see it,” Jones said. “It was totally unexpected. Usually you see subtle changes.”
When administered diazepam, a drug used to treat anxiety disorders in humans, mice of all generations stopped exhibiting anxiety-like behavior.
The researchers are planning an additional publication from this study that will focus on how aspartame affects memory. Future research will identify the molecular mechanisms that influence the transmission of aspartame’s effects across generations.
Additional co-authors were Deirdre McCarthy, Cynthia Vied and Gregg Stanwood from the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Professor Chris Schatschneider from the FSU Department of Psychology.
This research was supported by the Florida State University Jim and Betty Ann Rodgers Chair Fund and the Bryan Robinson Foundation.
Materials provided by Florida State University. Originally written by Robert Thomas. Note: Content can be edited for style and length.