Invasive lionfish (Pterois volitans): a potential human health threat for ciguatera fish poisoning in tropical waters

Mar Drugs. 2013 Dec 27;12(1):88-97. doi: 10.3390/md12010088.


Invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish (Pterois volitans) have rapidly expanded in the Western Atlantic over the past decade and have had a significant negative impact on reef fish biodiversity, habitat, and community structure, with lionfish out-competing native predators for resources. In an effort to reduce this population explosion, lionfish have been promoted for human consumption in the greater Caribbean region. This study examined whether the geographical expansion of the lionfish into a known ciguatera-endemic region can pose a human health threat for ciguatera fish poisoning (CFP). More than 180 lionfish were collected from waters surrounding the US Virgin Islands throughout 2010 and 2011. Ciguatoxin testing included an in vitro neuroblastoma cytotoxicity assay for composite toxicity assessment of sodium-channel toxins combined with confirmatory liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry. A 12% prevalence rate of ciguatoxic lionfish exceeding the FDA guidance level of 0.1 µg/kg C-CTX-1 equivalents was identified in fish from the U.S. Virgin Islands, highlighting a potential consumption risk in this region. This study presents the first evidence that the invasive lionfish, pose a direct human health risk for CFP and highlights the need for awareness and research on this food safety hazard in known endemic areas.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Atlantic Ocean
  • Biodiversity
  • Caribbean Region
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Ciguatera Poisoning / epidemiology*
  • Ciguatoxins / chemistry
  • Ecosystem
  • Fishes / physiology*
  • Food Safety
  • Humans
  • Indicators and Reagents
  • Marine Biology*
  • Marine Toxins / toxicity
  • Meat / analysis
  • Meat / toxicity
  • Neuroblastoma / pathology
  • Predatory Behavior
  • Seafood / adverse effects*
  • Sodium Channel Blockers / toxicity
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry
  • Toxicity Tests
  • United States Virgin Islands


  • Indicators and Reagents
  • Marine Toxins
  • Sodium Channel Blockers
  • ciguatoxin 1B (CTX 1B)
  • Ciguatoxins