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Papers of the Week

2022 Mar 14

Life (Basel)



As We Drink and Breathe: Adverse Health Effects of Microcystins and Other Harmful Algal Bloom Toxins in the Liver, Gut, Lungs and Beyond.


Lad A, Breidenbach JD, Su RC, Murray J, Kuang R, Mascarenhas A, Najjar J, Patel S, Hegde P, Youssef M, Breuler J, Kleinhenz AL, Ault AP, Westrick JA, Modyanov NN, Kennedy DJ, Haller ST
Life (Basel). 2022 Mar 14; 12(3).
PMID: 35330169.


Freshwater harmful algal blooms (HABs) are increasing in number and severity worldwide. These HABs are chiefly composed of one or more species of cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, such as and . Numerous HAB cyanobacterial species produce toxins (e.g., microcystin and anatoxin-collectively referred to as HAB toxins) that disrupt ecosystems, impact water and air quality, and deter recreation because they are harmful to both human and animal health. Exposure to these toxins can occur through ingestion, inhalation, or skin contact. Acute health effects of HAB toxins have been well documented and include symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea, headache, fever, and skin rashes. While these adverse effects typically increase with amount, duration, and frequency of exposure, susceptibility to HAB toxins may also be increased by the presence of comorbidities. The emerging science on potential long-term or chronic effects of HAB toxins with a particular emphasis on microcystins, especially in vulnerable populations such as those with pre-existing liver or gastrointestinal disease, is summarized herein. This review suggests additional research is needed to define at-risk populations who may be helped by preventative measures. Furthermore, studies are required to develop a mechanistic understanding of chronic, low-dose exposure to HAB toxins so that appropriate preventative, diagnostic, and therapeutic strategies can be created in a targeted fashion.