Cellular transport and secretion of the cyanobacterial neurotoxin BMAA into milk and egg Implications for developmental neurotoxicity

University dissertation from Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis

Abstract: The cyanobacterial amino acid β-N-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) is a neurotoxin implicated in the etiology of neurodegenerative diseases. Cyanobacteria are cosmopolitan organisms present in various environments. BMAA can cause long-term neurodegenerative alterations in rats exposed during the neonatal period, a period that corresponds to the last trimester and the first few years of life in humans. As BMAA has been reported to be bioaccumulated in the aquatic food chain and detected in mussels, crayfish and fish used for human consumption, the main aim of this thesis has been to investigate the final step in the mammalian food-chain, i.e. the transfer of BMAA into breast milk.Autoradiographic imaging and mass spectrometry analysis showed an enantiomer-selective uptake of BMAA and that the neurotoxin was transferred from lactating mice and rat, via the milk, to the brain of the nursed pups. The results show that transport of BMAA may be disproportional to dose. In addition, BMAA was found present both as free amino acid and tightly associated to proteins in rat brains. Surprisingly, however, no association to milk proteins was found. In vitro studies of murine (HC11) and human (MCF7) mammary epithelial cells suggest that BMAA can pass the human mammary epithelium into milk. Additional transport studies on human intestinal, glioblastoma and neuroblastoma cells showed that L-BMAA was consistently favored over D-BMAA and that the transport was mediated by several amino acid transporters. We also demonstrated that egg-laying quail transfer BMAA to its offspring by deposition in the eggs, particularly in the yolk but also in the albumen. Furthermore, comparative analysis of carboxyl- and methyl-labeled [14C]-BMAA suggested that BMAA was not metabolized to a large degree.Altogether, the results indicate that BMAA can be transferred from mothers, via the milk, to the brain of nursed human infants. Determinations of BMAA in mothers’ milk and cows’ milk are therefore warranted. We also propose that birds’ eggs could be an additional source of BMAA exposure in humans. It might therefore be of concern that mussels are increasingly used as feed in commercial egg production.