Production of β-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) and its isomers by freshwater diatoms

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Toxins, 2019, 11 (9)
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© 2019 by the authors. β-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) is a non-protein amino acid that has been implicated as a risk factor for motor neurone disease (MND). BMAA is produced by a wide range of cyanobacteria globally and by a small number of marine diatoms. BMAA is commonly found with two of its constitutional isomers: 2,4-diaminobutyric acid (2,4-DAB), and N-(2-aminoethyl)glycine (AEG). The isomer 2,4-DAB, like BMAA, has neurotoxic properties. While many studies have shown BMAA production by cyanobacteria, few studies have looked at other algal groups. Several studies have shown BMAA production by marine diatoms; however, there are no studies examining freshwater diatoms. This study aimed to determine if some freshwater diatoms produced BMAA, and which diatom taxa are capable of BMAA, 2,4-DAB and AEG production. Five axenic diatom cultures were established from river and lake sites across eastern Australia. Cultures were harvested during the stationary growth phase and intracellular amino acids were extracted. Using liquid chromatography triple quadrupole mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS), diatom extracts were analysed for the presence of both free and protein-associated BMAA, 2,4-DAB and AEG. Of the five diatom cultures analysed, four were found to have detectable BMAA and AEG, while 2,4-DAB was found in all cultures. These results show that BMAA production by diatoms is not confined to marine genera and that the prevalence of these non-protein amino acids in Australian freshwater environments cannot be solely attributed to cyanobacteria.
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