In vitro and in vivo safety assessment of edible blue-green algae, Nostoc commune var. sphaeroides Kützing and Spirulina plantensis

Food Chem Toxicol. 2011 Jul;49(7):1560-4. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2011.03.052. Epub 2011 Apr 5.


Blue-green algae (BGA) have been consumed as food and herbal medicine for centuries. However, safety for their consumption has not been well investigated. This study was undertaken to evaluate in vitro and in vivo toxicity of cultivated Nostoc commune var. sphaeroides Kützing (NO) and Spirulina platensis (SP). Neither NO nor SP contained detectable levels of microcystin (MC)-LA, MC-RR, MC-LW and MC-LR by LC/MS/MS. Cell viability remained ∼70-80% when HepG2 cells were incubated with 0-500 μg/ml of hexane, chloroform, methanol and water-extractable fractions of NO and SP. Four-week-old male and female C57BL/6J mice were fed an AIN-93G/M diet supplemented with 0%, 2.5% or 5% of NO and SP (wt/wt) for 6 months. For both genders, BGA-rich diets did not induce noticeable abnormality in weight gain and plasma alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase concentrations except a significant increase in plasma ALT levels by 2.5% NO supplementation in male mice at 6 month. Histopathological analysis of livers, however, indicated that BGA did not cause significant liver damage compared with controls. In conclusion, our results suggest that NO and SP are free of MC and the long-term dietary supplementation of up to 5% of the BGA may be consumed without evident toxic side-effects.

MeSH terms

  • Alanine Transaminase / blood
  • Animals
  • Aspartate Aminotransferases / blood
  • Bacterial Toxins / analysis
  • Cell Survival
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Dietary Supplements / toxicity*
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical / methods*
  • Female
  • Hep G2 Cells
  • Humans
  • Liver / pathology
  • Male
  • Marine Toxins / analysis
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Microcystins / analysis
  • Nostoc commune / chemistry*
  • Spirulina / chemistry*
  • Toxicity Tests / methods*


  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Marine Toxins
  • Microcystins
  • cyanoginosin-LA
  • microcystin RR
  • Aspartate Aminotransferases
  • Alanine Transaminase
  • cyanoginosin LR