Abundant respirable ergot alkaloids from the common airborne fungus aspergillus fumigatus

(Appl Environ Microbiol. 2005 June; 71(6): 31063111)

Ergot alkaloids are mycotoxins that interact with several monoamine receptors, negatively affecting cardiovascular, nervous, reproductive, and immune systems of exposed humans and animals. Aspergillus fumigatus, a common airborne fungus and opportunistic human pathogen, can produce ergot alkaloids in broth culture. The objectives of this study were to determine if A. fumigatus accumulates ergot alkaloids in a respirable form in or on its conidia, to quantify ergot alkaloids associated with conidia produced on several different substrates, and to measure relevant physical properties of the conidia. We found at least four ergot alkaloids, fumigaclavine C, festuclavine, fumigaclavine A, and fumigaclavine B (in order of abundance), associated with conidia of A. fumigatus. Under environmentally relevant conditions, the total mass of ergot alkaloids often constituted >1% of the mass of the conidium. Ergot alkaloids were extracted from conidia produced on all media tested, and the greatest quantities were observed when the fungus was cultured on latex paint or cultured maize seedlings. The values for physical properties of conidia likely to affect their respirability (i.e., diameter, mass, and specific gravity) were significantly lower for A. fumigatus than for Aspergillus nidulans, Aspergillus niger, and Stachybotrys chartarum.

The demonstration of relatively high concentrations of ergot alkaloids associated with conidia of A. fumigatus presents opportunities for investigations of potential contributions of the toxins to adverse health effects associated with the fungus and to aspects of the biology of the fungus that contribute to its success.

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