Research areasFungal toxins    September 22, 2017

Fungal toxins

Toxins from fungi are widely grouped into toxins from moulds ("mycotoxins") and toxins from higher fungi ("mushroom poisons"). This is a rather vague differentiation and not based on scientific taxonomy. Our work is focused on different aspects of mycotoxin chemistry, their biological effects and, to a lesser extent, ecological role.


There are many definitions for what a mycotoxin is. Mycotoxins have for example been defined as "natural products from moulds that evoke a toxic response when introduced in low concentrations to vertebrates". Mycotoxins are products of a fungus' secondary metabolism, i.e. that part of fungal metabolism that is not essential for cell growth and maintainance of basic cell function. Why fungi produce such substances is not entirely clear, but they may, at least in part, be used for "chemical warfare" and thus provide some advantage to survive in the environment.

Important groups of mycotoxins

ergot alkaloids aflatoxins ochratoxins
mainly produced by fungi within the Clavicipitaceae produced by several Aspergillus spp primarily produced by Aspergillus and Penicillium spp
cause ergotism hepatotoxic, strongestnatural carcinogens nephrotoxins, immune suppressive

fumonisins trichothecenes zearalenone
main producers
Fusarium verticillioides
and F. proliferatum
produced by Fusarium spp, four subgroups: type-A - type D produced by Fusarium spp 
hepatotoxic, leukoencephalo-
malacia (horse)
cytotoxic, inhibit protein- and DNA-synthesis mycoestrogen

Mushroom poisons

Mushroom poisoning is commonly caused after consumption of raw or cooked fruit bodies of toxic species. Poisonous mushrooms are often referred to as toadstools from the German word "Todesstuhl" (= death's stool). Mushroom toxins may be classified into four groups according to their principal biological effect:

protoplasmic poisons
gastrointestinal irritants  disulfiram-like toxins
generalised destruction
of cells followed by organ
profuse sweating, coma,
convulsions, hallucinations
nausea, vomiting, abdominal
cramps, diarrhoea
producers of coprine, only
toxic when alcohol is consumed
within approx. 72h of ingestion
e.g. false morel
(Gyromitra esculenta)
e.g. deadly fibercap
(Inocybe erubescens
e.g. brown rollrim
(Paxillus involutus
e.g. common ink cap
(Coprinus atramentarius)


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