The cyanobacterial toxin BMAA – a threat to human health

bmaalabtubesUnderstanding the occurrence and role of the BMAA, a potential human neurotoxin is the aim of this project. BMAA is produced by globally widespread cyanobacteria and our hypothesis is that BMAA is an environmental factor that may be involved in causing degenerative diseases such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, ALS, in human beings.

To examine this more closely, we use the yearly re-occuring cyanobacterial blooms in the Baltic Sea as a model system to follow the production of BMAA and its flow through food webs (eg. zooplankton and fish) in a natural ecosystem in order to identify potential routs for human BMAA exposure. Our data show that BMAA accumulates in Baltic Sea food-webs including fish, and may therefore constitute a threat to human health. To this end we the occurrence of BMAA in patients suffering from ALS is examined in collaboration with researchers at Karolinska Hospital.

To better understand the ‘true’ role of BMAA in cyanobacteria which have been around on the planet billion of years before human beings, we also search for biosynthetic pathways of BMAA and regulatory mechanisms, as well as environmental cues that trigger the BMAA production in cyanobacteria under natural conditions, such as in the Baltic Sea.

Team members: PhD Lotta Berntzon & Dr. Johan Eriksson

Collaborators: Docent LO Ronnevi, Karolinska Hospital/Karolinska Institute; Dr. S. Jonasson; Docent U. Rasmussen (SU)

Funding: SU Strategic Program ‘Baltic Ecosystem Adaptive Management’ (BEAM) and C. & U. Nicolin´s Foundation


Jonasson, S., Eriksson, J., Berntzon, L., Spácil, Z., Ilag, LL., Ronnevi, LO., Rasmussen, U., Bergman, B. 2010. Transfer of a cyanobacterial neurotoxin within a temperate aquatic ecosystem suggests pathways for human exposure. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. (USA) 107 (20) 9252-9257; doi:10.1073/pnas.0914417107

Eriksson, J., Jonasson, S., Rasmussen, U., Berntzon, L. & Bergman, B. 2008. Improving derivatization efficiency of BMAA utilizing AccQ-Tag® in a complex cyanobacterial matrix. Amino Acids 36:43-48. doi: 10.1007/s00726-007-0023-4

Cox, P.A., Banack, S.A., Murch, S.J., Rasmussen, U., Tien, G., Bidigare, R.R., Metcalf, J.S., Morrison, L.F., Codd, G.A., & Bergman, B. 2005. Diverse taxa of cyanobacteria produce BMAA, a neurotoxic amino acid. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. (USA) 102:5074-5078.


Jonasson, S, Eriksson, J., Berntzon, L., Rasmussen, U. & Bergman, B. 2008. A novel cyanobacterial toxin (BMAA) with potential neurodegenerative effects. Plant Biotechnol. 25: 227-232.


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