, Volume 17, Issue 7, pp 623–631 | Cite as

Harmful algal toxins of the Florida red tide (Karenia brevis): natural chemical stressors in South Florida coastal ecosystems

  • R. H. Pierce
  • M. S. Henry


The Florida red tide is a descriptive name for high concentrations of the harmful marine alga, Karenia brevis. Although most prevalent along the south-west Florida coast, periodic blooms have occurred throughout the entire US and Mexico Gulf coasts and the Atlantic coast to North Carolina. This dinoflagellate produces a suite of polyether neurotoxins, called brevetoxins, that cause severe impacts to natural resources, as well as public health. These naturally produced biotoxins may represent one of the most common chemical stressors impacting South Florida coastal and marine ecosystems. Impacts include massive fish kills, marine mammal, sea turtle and sea bird mortalities, benthic community die-off and public health effects from shellfish contamination and inhalation of air-borne toxins. The primary mode of action is binding to voltage-gated sodium channels causing depolarization of nerve cells, thus interfering with nerve transmission. Other effects include immune depression, bronchial constriction and haemolysis. Parent algal toxins are synthesized within the unicellular organism, others are produced as metabolic products. Recent studies into the composition of brevetoxins in cells, water, air and organisms have shown PbTx-2 to be the primary intracellular brevetoxin that is converted over time to PbTx-3 when the cells are ruptured, releasing extracellular brevetoxins into the environment. Brevetoxins become aerosolized by bubble-mediated transport of extracellular toxins, the composition of which varies depending on the composition in the source water. Bivalved molluscs rapidly accumulate brevetoxins as they filter feed on K. brevis cells. However, the parent algal toxins are rapidly metabolized to other compounds, some of which are responsible for neurotoxic shellfish poisoning (NSP). These results provide new insight into the distribution, persistence and impacts of red tide toxins to south-west Florida ecosystems.


Brevetoxins Biotoxins PbTx HABs Florida red tide 



Studies from which data were presented were funded by the following agencies: PbTx composition along the south-west Florida coast, FWCC, Grant No. 04089; Aerosolized PbTxs, NIEHS, 5PO-1 ES010594-05; Shellfish NSP toxins, NOAA-ECOHAB Award No. NA030S4780187.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Mote Marine LaboratorySarasotaUSA

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