Osmotic stress triggers toxin production by the dinoflagellate Karenia brevis.

With the increase in frequency of harmful algal blooms (HABs) worldwide, a better understanding of the mechanisms that influence toxin production is needed. Karenia brevis, the major HAB dinoflagellate in the Gulf of Mexico, produces potent neurotoxins, known as brevetoxins. Human health is directly impacted by blooms of K. brevis through consumption of shellfish contaminated by accumulated brevetoxins (neurotoxic shellfish poisoning) or from aerosolized brevetoxins in sea spray (reduced respiratory function); however, the reason for brevetoxin production has remained a mystery. Here we show that brevetoxin production increased dramatically in response to osmotic stress in three of the four K. brevis clones examined. By rapidly changing salinity to simulate a shift from oceanic conditions to a decreased salinity typical of coastal conditions, brevetoxin production was triggered. As a result, brevetoxin cell quota increased by >14-fold, while growth rate remained unchanged. Live images of K. brevis cells were also examined to assess changes in cell volume. In the K. brevis Wilson clone, cells responded quickly to hypoosmotic stress by increasing their brevetoxin cell quota from ∼10 to 160 pg of brevetoxin per cell, while cell volume remained stable. In contrast, the K. brevis SP1 clone, which has a consistently low brevetoxin cell quota (<1 pg per cell), was unable to balance the hypoosmotic stress, and although brevetoxin production remained low, average cell volume increased. Our findings close a critical gap in knowledge regarding mechanisms for toxin production in K. brevis by providing an explanation for toxin production in this harmful dinoflagellate.
AuthorsReagan M Errera, Lisa Campbell
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A) Vol. 108 Issue 26 Pg. 10597-601 (Jun 28 2011) ISSN: 1091-6490 [Electronic] United States
PMID21670286 (Publication Type: Journal Article, Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.)
Chemical References
  • Toxins, Biological
  • Dinoflagellida (metabolism, physiology)
  • Osmotic Pressure
  • Toxins, Biological (biosynthesis)

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