Detection of cyanobacterial neurotoxin β-N-methylamino-l-alanine within shellfish in the diet of an ALS patient in Florida

Toxicon. 2014 Nov:90:167-73. doi: 10.1016/j.toxicon.2014.07.018. Epub 2014 Aug 11.


Cyanobacteria produce the neurotoxic amino acid β-N-methylamino-l-alanine (BMAA), which in contaminated marine waters has been found to accumulate in shellfish. Exposure to BMAA has been associated with an increased risk of neurodegenerative disease. Analysis of blinded samples found BMAA to be present in neuroproteins of individuals who died from ALS and ALS/PDC, but generally not in the brains of patients who died of causes unrelated to neurodegeneration or Huntington's disease, an autosomal dominant neurodegenerative disease. We here report support for a link between a patient with ALS and chronic exposure to the cyanobacterial neurotoxin BMAA via shellfish consumption. The patient had frequently eaten lobsters collected in Florida Bay for approximately 30 years. LC-MS/MS analysis of two lobsters which this ALS patient had placed in his freezer revealed BMAA at concentrations of 27 and 4 μg/g, respectively, as well as the presence of 2,4-diaminobutyric acid (DAB), a BMAA isomer. Two additional lobsters recently collected from Florida Bay also contained the neurotoxins BMAA and DAB. These data suggest that invertebrates collected in water where cyanobacterial blooms are present, if consumed, may result in direct human exposure to these neurotoxic amino acids. The data support the assertion that prolonged exposure to BMAA may have played a role in the etiology of ALS in this patient.

Keywords: 2,4-Diaminobutyric acid; Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; BMAA; Cyanobacteria; Neurotoxins in Florida Bay; South Florida.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amino Acids, Diamino / analysis*
  • Amino Acids, Diamino / toxicity
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / chemically induced
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / physiopathology*
  • Cyanobacteria / chemistry*
  • Cyanobacteria Toxins
  • Florida
  • Humans
  • Limit of Detection
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurotoxins / analysis*
  • Neurotoxins / toxicity
  • Shellfish / analysis*
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Electrospray Ionization
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry


  • Amino Acids, Diamino
  • Cyanobacteria Toxins
  • Neurotoxins
  • beta-N-methylamino-L-alanine