Freshwater Neurotoxins and Concerns for Human, Animal, and Ecosystem Health: A Review of Anatoxin-A and Saxitoxin

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Science of The Total Environment



First page number:


Last page number:



Toxic cyanobacteria are a concern worldwide because they can adversely affect humans, animals, and ecosystems. However, neurotoxins produced by freshwater cyanobacteria are understudied relative to microcystin. Thus, the objective of this critical review was to provide a comprehensive examination of the modes of action, production, fate, and occurrence of the freshwater neurotoxins anatoxin-a and saxitoxin as they relate to human, animal, and ecosystem health. Literature on freshwater anatoxin-a and saxitoxin was obtained and reviewed for both laboratory and field studies. Current (2020) research identifies as many as 41 anatoxin-a producing species and 15 saxitoxin-producing species of freshwater cyanobacteria. Field studies indicate that anatoxin-a and saxitoxin have widespread distribution, and examples are given from every continent except Antarctica. Human and animal health concerns can range from acute to chronic. However, few researchers studied chronic or sublethal effects of freshwater exposures to anatoxin-a or saxitoxin. Ecosystem health also is a concern, as the effects of toxicity may be far reaching and include consequences throughout the food web. Several gaps in knowledge were identified for anatoxin-a and saxitoxin, including triggers of production and release, environmental fate and degradation, primary and secondary exposure routes, diel variation, food web effects, effects of cyanotoxin mixtures, and sublethal health effects on individual organisms and populations. Despite the gaps, this critical review facilitates our current understanding of freshwater neurotoxins and thus can serve to guide future research on anatoxin-a, saxitoxin, and other cyanotoxins.


Harmful algal blooms; HABs; Cyanobacteria; Toxin production; Cyanotoxins; Ecosystem effects


Environmental Engineering



UNLV article access

Search your library