The cyanobacterial neurotoxin β-N-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) targets the olfactory bulb region.

Research paper by Paula P Pierozan, Elena E Piras, Eva E Brittebo, Oskar O Karlsson

Indexed on: 22 May '20Published on: 22 May '20Published in: Archives of Toxicology


Olfactory dysfunction is implicated in neurodegenerative disorders and typically manifests years before other symptoms. The cyanobacterial neurotoxin β-N-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) is suggested as a risk factor for neurodegenerative disease. Detection of BMAA in air filters has increased the concern that aerosolization may lead to human BMAA exposure through the air. The aim of this study was to determine if BMAA targets the olfactory system. Autoradiographic imaging showed a distinct localization of radioactivity in the right olfactory mucosa and bulb following a unilateral intranasal instillation of H-BMAA (0.018 µg) in mice, demonstrating a direct transfer of BMAA via the olfactory pathways to the brain circumventing the blood-brain barrier, which was confirmed by liquid scintillation. Treatment of mouse primary olfactory bulb cells with 100 µM BMAA for 24 h caused a disruption of the neurite network, formation of dendritic varicosities and reduced cell viability. The NMDA receptor antagonist MK-801 and the metabotropic glutamate receptor antagonist MCPG protected against the BMAA-induced alterations, demonstrating the importance of glutamatergic mechanisms. The ionotropic non-NMDA receptor antagonist CNQX prevented the BMAA-induced decrease of cell viability in mixed cultures containing both neuronal and glial cells, but not in cultures with neurons only, suggesting a role of neuron-glial interactions and glial AMPA receptors in the BMAA-induced toxicity. The results show that the olfactory region may be a target for BMAA following inhalation exposure. Further studies on the relations between environmental olfactory toxicants and neurodegenerative disorders are warranted.