Toxic potential of five freshwater Phormidium species (Cyanoprokaryota)

Toxicon. 2005 May;45(6):711-25. doi: 10.1016/j.toxicon.2005.01.018.


Among the Cyanoprokaryota (blue-green algae), the genus Phormidium has thus far rarely been studied with respect to toxin production and potentially resulting human and environmental health effects. We here show that five previously unexplored freshwater species of this genus (Ph. bijugatum, Ph. molle, Ph. papyraceum, Ph. uncinatum, Ph. autumnale) are indeed capable of producing bioactive compounds. Phormidium extracts caused weight loss as well as neuro/hepatotoxic symptoms in mice, and in the case of Ph. bijugatum even death. Very low levels of saxitoxins and microcystins, as confirmed by ELISA, were insufficient to explain this toxicity and the differing toxic potencies of the Phormidium species. Qualitative HPLC analyses confirmed different substance patterns and in the future could aid in the separation of fractions for more detailed substance characterisation. The results in vivo were confirmed in vitro using cells of human, mouse and fish. The fish cells responded least sensitive but proved useful in studying the temperature dependence of the toxicity by the Phormidium samples. Further, the human cells were more sensitive than the mouse cells thus suggesting that the former may be a more appropriate choice for studying the impact of Phormidium to man. Among the human cells, two cancer cell lines were more responsive to one of the samples than a normal cell line, thereby indicating a potential anti-tumour activity. Thus, the five freshwater Phormidium species should be considered in environmental risk assessment but as well, as a source of therapeutic agents.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Toxins / metabolism
  • Bacterial Toxins / toxicity*
  • Body Weight / drug effects
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Cyanobacteria / chemistry*
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Fishes
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Formazans
  • Humans
  • Liver / drug effects
  • Liver / pathology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Microcystins
  • Peptides, Cyclic / metabolism
  • Saxitoxin / metabolism
  • Species Specificity
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Tetrazolium Salts


  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Formazans
  • Microcystins
  • Peptides, Cyclic
  • Tetrazolium Salts
  • MTT formazan
  • Saxitoxin
  • microcystin