Toxins of cyanobacteria

Mol Nutr Food Res. 2007 Jan;51(1):7-60. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.200600185.


Blue-green algae are found in lakes, ponds, rivers and brackish waters throughout the world. In case of excessive growth such as bloom formation, these bacteria can produce inherent toxins in quantities causing toxicity in mammals, including humans. These cyanotoxins include cyclic peptides and alkaloids. Among the cyclic peptides are the microcystins and the nodularins. The alkaloids include anatoxin-a, anatoxin-a(S), cylindrospermopsin, saxitoxins (STXs), aplysiatoxins and lyngbyatoxin. Both biological and chemical methods are used to determine cyanotoxins. Bioassays and biochemical assays are nonspecific, so they can only be used as screening methods. HPLC has some good prospects. For the subsequent detection of these toxins different detectors may be used, ranging from simple UV-spectrometry via fluorescence detection to various types of MS. The main problem in the determination of cyanobacterial toxins is the lack of reference materials of all relevant toxins. In general, toxicity data on cyanotoxins are rather scarce. A majority of toxicity data are known to be of microcystin-LR. For nodularins, data from a few animal studies are available. For the alkaloids, limited toxicity data exist for anatoxin-a, cylindrospermopsin and STX. Risk assessment for acute exposure could be relevant for some types of exposure. Nevertheless, no acute reference doses have formally been derived thus far. For STX(s), many countries have established tolerance levels in bivalves, but these limits were set in view of STX(s) as biotoxins, accumulating in marine shellfish. Official regulations for other cyanotoxins have not been established, although some (provisional) guideline values have been derived for microcystins in drinking water by WHO and several countries.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alkaloids
  • Bacterial Toxins / analysis
  • Bacterial Toxins / chemistry
  • Bacterial Toxins / metabolism
  • Bacterial Toxins / toxicity*
  • Biodegradation, Environmental
  • Cyanobacteria / pathogenicity*
  • Lyngbya Toxins / toxicity
  • Marine Toxins / analysis
  • Marine Toxins / chemistry
  • Marine Toxins / metabolism
  • Marine Toxins / toxicity*
  • Microcystins / analysis
  • Microcystins / chemistry
  • Microcystins / metabolism
  • Microcystins / toxicity*
  • Peptides, Cyclic / toxicity
  • Saxitoxin / toxicity
  • Tropanes / toxicity
  • Uracil / analogs & derivatives
  • Uracil / toxicity


  • Alkaloids
  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Lyngbya Toxins
  • Marine Toxins
  • Microcystins
  • Peptides, Cyclic
  • Tropanes
  • cyanobacterial toxin
  • nodularin
  • cylindrospermopsin
  • Saxitoxin
  • aplysiatoxin
  • Uracil
  • anatoxin a