Bioterrorism: toxins as weapons

J Pharm Pract. 2012 Apr;25(2):121-9. doi: 10.1177/0897190012442351.


The potential for biological weapons to be used in terrorism is a real possibility. Biological weapons include infectious agents and toxins. Toxins are poisons produced by living organisms. Toxins relevant to bioterrorism include ricin, botulinum, Clostridium perfrigens epsilson toxin, conotoxins, shigatoxins, saxitoxins, tetrodotoxins, mycotoxins, and nicotine. Toxins have properties of biological and chemical weapons. Unlike pathogens, toxins do not produce an infection. Ricin causes multiorgan toxicity by blocking protein synthesis. Botulinum blocks acetylcholine in the peripheral nervous system leading to muscle paralysis. Epsilon toxin damages cell membranes. Conotoxins block potassium and sodium channels in neurons. Shigatoxins inhibit protein synthesis and induce apoptosis. Saxitoxin and tetrodotoxin inhibit sodium channels in neurons. Mycotoxins include aflatoxins and trichothecenes. Aflatoxins are carcinogens. Trichothecenes inhibit protein and nucleic acid synthesis. Nicotine produces numerous nicotinic effects in the nervous system.

MeSH terms

  • Aflatoxins / toxicity
  • Biological Warfare Agents*
  • Bioterrorism*
  • Botulinum Toxins / toxicity
  • Chemical Warfare Agents / toxicity*
  • Enterotoxins / toxicity
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Mycotoxins / toxicity
  • Pharmacists
  • Ricin / toxicity
  • Saxitoxin / toxicity
  • Staphylococcaceae
  • Tetrodotoxin / toxicity
  • Toxins, Biological / toxicity*


  • Aflatoxins
  • Biological Warfare Agents
  • Chemical Warfare Agents
  • Enterotoxins
  • Mycotoxins
  • Toxins, Biological
  • Saxitoxin
  • Tetrodotoxin
  • Ricin
  • Botulinum Toxins