Contempo Updates
January 23/30, 2002


Author Affiliations

Author Affiliation: Division of Environmental and Occupational Health, George Washington University, School of Public Health and Health Services, Washington, DC.


Contempo Updates Section Editor: Janet M. Torpy, MD, Fishbein Fellow.

JAMA. 2002;287(4):425-427. doi:10.1001/jama.287.4.425

Mycotoxins, chemicals produced by fungi, may have developed to serve as a chemical defense system against insects, microorganisms, nematodes, grazing animals, and humans. Approximately 400 known mycotoxins exist. This article describes the major mycotoxins that affect human health and highlights the mycotoxins with potential bioterrorist use.

Mycotoxins can benefit humans by their use as antibiotics (penicillins), immunosuppressants (cyclosporine), and in control of postpartum hemorrhage and migraine headaches (ergot alkaloids). Mycotoxins are also capable of producing illness and death in humans and animals. Table 1 lists 4 major classes of mycotoxins and their health effects.

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