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Arch Environ Contam Toxicol. 1993 Jul;25(1):134-42.

Contaminants in L-tryptophan associated with eosinophilia myalgia syndrome.

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Division of Environmental Health Laboratory Sciences, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia 30333.


In late 1989, an epidemic of eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS) that resulted in several thousand cases of the syndrome and 36 deaths was recognized in the United States. Physicians in New Mexico linked the epidemic to the ingestion of L-tryptophan (LT). Results of studies indicated that one or more trace contaminants in LT were likely causes of the EMS epidemic. Investigators traced the LT that was taken by most patients with EMS to a single manufacturer, Showa Denko K.K. of Japan. We now report results of high performance liquid chromatographic analysis of LT samples from this manufacturer. Three sets of blind-coded samples were analyzed: the priority case lot set, which included 54 case-associated LT lots and 50 noncase-associated LT lots that were taken by case and control subjects who used only one brand of LT; the single lot case set, which included 73 case-associated LT lots and 25 noncase associated LT lots taken by case and control subjects who used only a single lot of LT; and the South Carolina tablet set, which included LT tablets taken by case subjects (n = 26) and by control subjects (n = 52). We statistically compared the concentration of each contaminant in case-associated, noncase-associated, and control samples of each sample set. The analyses showed that there were more than 60 minor contaminants in the LT from Showa Denko K.K., and that six of these contaminants were associated with EMS. The structures of three contaminants are known, but the identities of the other three contaminants are currently unknown.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

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