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The World in Medicine
June 16, 2010

ALS and Neurotoxins

JAMA. 2010;303(23):2346. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.798

A neurotoxin produced by cyanobacteria that has been implicated as the cause of a neurodegenerative disorder in Guam may also be produced by cyanobacteria in the Baltic Sea and elsewhere, report scientists in Sweden and the Czech Republic (Jonasson S at al. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010;107[20]:9252-9257).

Previously, researchers proposed that a neurotoxin called β-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA), produced by cyanobacteria in the roots of certain plants, accumulated in the food chain and caused the very high incidence of an illness similar to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) that occurred in the Chamorro people in Guam in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Studies in animals and cultured cells, as well as studies that found BMAA in brain tissue of some patients with Alzheimer disease or ALS, also implicated BMAA as a potential factor in neurodegenerative disease.

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