Hepatotoxic seafood poisoning (HSP) due to microcystins: a threat from the ocean?

Mar Drugs. 2013 Aug 5;11(8):2751-68. doi: 10.3390/md11082751.


Cyanobacterial blooms are a major and growing problem for freshwater ecosystems worldwide that increasingly concerns public health, with an average of 60% of blooms known to be toxic. The most studied cyanobacterial toxins belong to a family of cyclic heptapeptide hepatotoxins, called microcystins. The microcystins are stable hydrophilic cyclic heptapeptides with a potential to cause cell damage following cellular uptake via organic anion-transporting proteins (OATP). Their intracellular biologic effects presumably involve inhibition of catalytic subunits of protein phosphatases (PP1 and PP2A) and glutathione depletion. The microcystins produced by cyanobacteria pose a serious problem to human health, if they contaminate drinking water or food. These toxins are collectively responsible for human fatalities, as well as continued and widespread poisoning of wild and domestic animals. Although intoxications of aquatic organisms by microcystins have been widely documented for freshwater ecosystems, such poisonings in marine environments have only occasionally been reported. Moreover, these poisonings have been attributed to freshwater cyanobacterial species invading seas of lower salinity (e.g., the Baltic) or to the discharge of freshwater microcystins into the ocean. However, recent data suggest that microcystins are also being produced in the oceans by a number of cosmopolitan marine species, so that Hepatotoxic Seafood Poisoning (HSP) is increasingly recognized as a major health risk that follows consumption of contaminated seafood.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cyanobacteria / metabolism
  • Food Contamination
  • Glutathione / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Liver Diseases / etiology*
  • Microcystins / toxicity*
  • Organic Anion Transporters / metabolism
  • Protein Phosphatase 1 / metabolism
  • Protein Phosphatase 2 / metabolism
  • Seafood / poisoning*


  • Microcystins
  • Organic Anion Transporters
  • Protein Phosphatase 1
  • Protein Phosphatase 2
  • Glutathione