Overview of the potent cyanobacterial neurotoxin β-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) and its analytical determination

Food Addit Contam Part A Chem Anal Control Expo Risk Assess. 2016 Oct;33(10):1570-1586. doi: 10.1080/19440049.2016.1217070. Epub 2016 Sep 22.


Blue-green algae are responsible for the production of different types of toxins which can be neurotoxic, hepatotoxic, cytotoxic and dermatotoxic and that can affect both aquatic and terrestrial life. Since its discovery the neurotoxin β-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) has been a cause for concern, being associated with the neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis/Parkinsonism-dementia complex (ALS/PDC). The initial focus was on Guam where it was observed that a high number of people were affected by the ALS/PDC complex. Subsequently, researchers were surprised to find levels of BMAA in post mortem brains from Canadian patients who also suffered from ALS/PDC. Recent research demonstrates that BMAA has been found at different levels in the aquatic food web in the brackish waters of the Baltic Sea. There is emerging evidence to suggest that sand-borne algae from Qatar can also contain BMAA. Furthermore, there is now concern because BMAA has been found not only in warmer regions of the world but also in temperate regions like Europe. The aim of this review is to focus on the methods of extraction and analysis of the neurotoxic non-protein amino acid BMAA. We also consider the neurotoxicity, aetiology, and diverse sources and routes of exposure to BMAA. In recent years, different methods have been developed for the analysis of BMAA. Some of these use HPLC-FD, UPLC-UV, UPLC-MS and LC-MS/MS using samples that have been derivatised or underivatised. To date the LC-MS/MS approach is the most widely used analytical technique as it is the most selective and sensitive method for BMAA determination.

Keywords: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis/Parkinsonism–dementia complex (ALS/PDC); blooms; cyanobacteria; microcystins; β-Methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids, Diamino / analysis*
  • Animals
  • Cyanobacteria / chemistry*
  • Cyanobacteria Toxins
  • Humans
  • Molecular Conformation
  • Neurotoxins / analysis*


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