The consumption of artificial food dye (AFD) during childhood and adolescence has been linked to behavioural changes, such as hyperactivity. It is possible that the vulnerability to AFDs is modified by prenatal stress. Common consequences of prenatal stress include hyperactivity, thus potentially leading to synergistic actions with AFDs.
Here, we investigated the compounding effect of multigenerational prenatal stress (MPS) and AFD consumption on the development of hyperactivity and anxiety-related behaviours across the lifespan in male rats.
MPS treatment involved a family history of four consecutive generations of prenatal stress (F4 generation). AFD treatment included a 4%-concentration of FD&C Red 40, FD&C Yellow 5, FD&C Yellow 6, and FD&C Blue 1 in the drinking water from postnatal days 22 to 50 to resemble juvenile and adolescent dietary exposure. Using several exploration tasks, animals were tested in motor activity and anxiety-like behaviours from adolescence to 13 months of age.
MPS resulted in hyperactivity both early (50 days) and later in life (13 months), with normalized activity patterns at reproductive age. AFD consumption resulted in hyperactivity during consumption, which subsided following termination of treatment. Notably, both MPS and AFD promoted risk-taking behaviour in young adults (3 months). There were few synergistic effects between MPS and AFD in this study.
The findings suggest that AFDs exert the most noticeable effects at the time of exposure. MPS, however, results in a characteristic lifespan profile of behavioural changes, indicating that development and aging represent particularly vulnerable periods in life during which a family history of prenatal stress may precipitate.
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