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      A cluster of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in New Hampshire: a possible role for toxic cyanobacteria blooms.

      Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
      Amino Acids, Diamino, analysis, toxicity, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, diagnosis, epidemiology, etiology, Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid, methods, Cluster Analysis, Cyanobacteria, chemistry, physiology, Ecosystem, Eukaryota, microbiology, Humans, Incidence, New Hampshire, Phycocyanin, Retrospective Studies, Tandem Mass Spectrometry, Water Microbiology

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          Abstract

          Cyanobacteria produce many neurotoxins including beta-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) that has been liked to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and neurodegenerative disease. A number of ALS cases have been diagnosed among residents of Enfield, NH, a town encompassing a lake with a history of cyanobacteria algal blooms. To investigate an association between toxic cyanobacterial blooms in New Hampshire and development of ALS, we reviewed records from our institution and other community databases to obtain demographic information on patients diagnosed with ALS within New England. We identified nine ALS patients who lived near Lake Mascoma in Enfield, NH, an incidence of sporadic ALS that is 10 to 25 times the expected incidence of 2/100,000/year. We suggest that the high incidence of ALS in this potential cluster could be directly related to chronic exposure to cyanobacterial neurotoxins such as BMAA. Possible routes of toxin exposure include inhalation of aerosolized toxins, consuming fish, or ingestion of lake water. Further investigation, including analysis of brain tissue for cyanobacterial toxins, will be helpful to test for an association between BMAA and ALS.

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          Diverse taxa of cyanobacteria produce beta-N-methylamino-L-alanine, a neurotoxic amino acid.

          Cyanobacteria can generate molecules hazardous to human health, but production of the known cyanotoxins is taxonomically sporadic. For example, members of a few genera produce hepatotoxic microcystins, whereas production of hepatotoxic nodularins appears to be limited to a single genus. Production of known neurotoxins has also been considered phylogenetically unpredictable. We report here that a single neurotoxin, beta-N-methylamino-L-alanine, may be produced by all known groups of cyanobacteria, including cyanobacterial symbionts and free-living cyanobacteria. The ubiquity of cyanobacteria in terrestrial, as well as freshwater, brackish, and marine environments, suggests a potential for wide-spread human exposure.
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            Occurrence of beta-methylamino-l-alanine (BMAA) in ALS/PDC patients from Guam.

            We tested the brain tissues of the Chamorro people of Guam who died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis/Parkinsonism dimentia complex (ALS/PDC) for the neurotoxin beta-methylamino-l-alanine (BMAA). We used validated high-pressure liquid chromatography and liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry analyses to test well-characterized archival tissues of the superior frontal gyrus from eight Chamorros from Guam and a comparison group of 15 Canadians. BMAA was found as a free amino acid in 83% of Chamorro ALS/PDC patients (3-10 microg/g) as a protein-associated amino acid in 100% of the Chamorro individuals (149-1190 microg/g). Both forms of BMAA were also found at comparable levels in two Canadians who died of progressive neurodegenerative disease. BMAA, which is produced by cyanobacteria, may be associated with some cases of neurodegenerative disease.
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              Cycad neurotoxins, consumption of flying foxes, and ALS-PDC disease in Guam.

              The Chamorro people of Guam have been afflicted with a complex of neurodegenerative diseases (now known as ALS-PDC) with similarities to ALS, AD, and PD at a far higher rate than other populations throughout the world. Chamorro consumption of flying foxes may have generated sufficiently high cumulative doses of plant neurotoxins to result in ALS-PDC neuropathologies, since the flying foxes forage on neurotoxic cycad seeds.
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