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J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev. 2005 Jan-Feb;8(1):1-37.

Hepatotoxic cyanobacteria: a review of the biological importance of microcystins in freshwater environments.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, Biological Sciences Building, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.


Cyanobacteria possess many adaptations to develop population maxima or "blooms" in lakes and reservoirs. A potential consequence of freshwater blooms of many cyanobacterial species is the production of potent toxins, including the cyclic hepatotoxins, microcystins (MCs). Approximately 70 MC variants have been isolated. Their toxicity to humans and other animals is well studied, because of public health concerns. This review focuses instead on the production and degradation of MCs in freshwater environments and their effects on aquatic organisms. Genetic research has revealed the existence of MC-related genes, yet the expression of these genes seems to be regulated by complex mechanisms and is influenced by environmental factors. In natural water bodies, the species composition of cyanobacterial communities and the ratio of toxic to nontoxic species and strains are largely responsible for total toxin production. Cyanobacteria play vital roles in aquatic food webs, yet production, accumulation, and toxicity patterns of MCs within aquatic food webs remain obscure.

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