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