Ciguatera is food poisoning caused by human consumption of reef fish contaminated with ciguatoxins (CTXs). The expanding international trade of tropical fish species from ciguatera-endemic regions has resulted in increased global incidence of ciguatera, and more than 50000 people are estimated to suffer from ciguatera each year worldwide. The Republic of Kiribati is located in the Pacific Ocean; two of its islands, Marakei and Tarawa, have been suggested as high-risk areas for ciguatera. The toxicities of coral reef fish collected from these islands, including herbivorous, omnivorous and carnivorous fish (24% [n=41], 8% [n=13] and 68% [n=117], respectively), were analyzed using the mouse neuroblastoma assay (MNA) after CTX extraction. The MNA results indicated that 156 fish specimens, or 91% of the fish samples, were ciguatoxic (CTX levels >0.01 ng g(-1)). Groupers and moray eels were generally more toxic by an order of magnitude than other fish species. All of the collected individuals of eight species (n=3-19) were toxic. Toxicity varied within species and among locations by up to 10000-fold. Cephalapholis argus and Gymnothorax spp. collected from Tarawa Island were significantly less toxic than those from Marakei Island, although all individuals were toxic based on the 0.01 ng g(-1) threshold. CTX concentrations in the livers of individuals of two moray eel species (Gymnothorax spp., n=6) were nine times greater than those in muscle, and toxicity in liver and muscle showed a strong positive correlation with body weight. The present study provides quantitative information on the ciguatoxicity and distribution of toxicity in fish for use in fisheries management and public health.
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