Cyanobacterial Neurotoxin Beta-Methyl-Amino-l-Alanine Affects Dopaminergic Neurons in Optic Ganglia and Brain of Daphnia magna

Toxins (Basel). 2018 Dec 8;10(12):527. doi: 10.3390/toxins10120527.


The non-proteinogenic amino acid beta-methyl-amino-l-alanine (BMAA) is a neurotoxin produced by cyanobacteria. BMAA accumulation in the brain of animals via biomagnification along the food web can contribute to the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis/Parkinsonism dementia complex (ALS/PDC), the latter being associated with a loss of dopaminergic neurons. Daphnia magna is an important microcrustacean zooplankton species that plays a key role in aquatic food webs, and BMAA-producing cyanobacteria often form part of their diet. Here, we tested the effects of BMAA on putative neurodegeneration of newly identified specific dopaminergic neurons in the optic ganglia/brain complex of D. magna using quantitative tyrosine-hydroxylase immunohistochemistry and fluorescence cytometry. The dopaminergic system was analysed in fed and starved isogenic D. magna adults incubated under different BMAA concentrations over 4 days. Increased BMAA concentration showed significant decrease in the stainability of dopaminergic neurons of D. magna, with fed animals showing a more extreme loss. Furthermore, higher BMAA concentrations tended to increase offspring mortality during incubation. These results are indicative of ingested BMAA causing neurodegeneration of dopaminergic neurons in D. magna and adversely affecting reproduction. This may imply similar effects of BMAA on known human neurodegenerative diseases involving dopaminergic neurons.

Keywords: BMAA; Daphnia magna; beta-methyl-amino-l-alanine; cyanobacterial toxin; dopaminergic neurons; neurodegeneration; water flea.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids, Diamino / toxicity*
  • Animals
  • Bacterial Toxins / toxicity*
  • Brain / cytology
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Cyanobacteria
  • Cyanobacteria Toxins
  • Daphnia
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / drug effects*
  • Female
  • Ganglia / drug effects
  • Neurotoxins / toxicity*
  • Reproduction / drug effects


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