Our recent studies have demonstrated that the aqueous extract prepared from Alexandrium tamarense, a harmful red tide phytoplankton, showed cytotoxicity on Vero cells. In this study, the toxic substance was purified from the culture supernatant of A. tamarense. Based on the gel-filtration profile, the molecular mass of a purified toxin was estimated to be about 1,000 kDa. On sodium dodecylsulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE) analysis, a main band with molecular mass of 1,000 kDa was detected with periodic acid-Schiff (PAS) staining, but no protein bands were detected by Coomassie brilliant blue (CBB) protein staining. Sugar composition analysis of the toxin suggested that the toxin contains galactose, fucose, mannose, N-acetylglucosamine, xylose, and other minor saccharides, whereas no significant levels of amino acids were detected by amino acid analysis. These results suggest that the toxin is a polysaccharide-based compound. The toxin showed cytotoxic effects on various cell lines in a concentration-dependent manner. Among the cell lines tested, U937 cells were the most susceptible to the toxin. In U937 cells treated with the toxin, a typical apoptotic nuclear morphological change and DNA fragmentation were observed. This is the first report demonstrating that a polysaccharide-based toxin isolated from red tide phytoplankton can induce apoptotic cell death.
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