Fungal Neurotoxins and Sporadic Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

  • Peter W. FrenchEmail author
  • Russell Ludowyke
  • Gilles J. Guillemin


We review several lines of evidence that point to a potential fungal origin of sporadic amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). ALS is the most common form of motor neuron disease (MND) in adults. It is a progressive and fatal disease. Approximately 90% cases of ALS are sporadic, and 5–10% are due to genetic mutations (familial). About 25 genes implicated in familial ALS have been identified so far, including SOD1 and TARDBP, the gene encoding 43 kDa transactive response (TAR) DNA-binding protein (TDP-43). Despite intensive research over many decades, the aetiology of sporadic ALS is still unknown. An environmental cause, including grass or soil-associated fungal infections, is suggested from a range of widely diverse lines of evidence. Clusters of ALS have been reported in soccer players, natives of Guam and farmers. Grass-associated fungi are known to produce a range of neurotoxins and, in symbiotic associations, high levels of fungal SOD1. Exposure of neurons to fungal neurotoxins elicits a significant increase in glutamate production. High levels of glutamate stimulate TDP-43 translocation and modification, providing a link between fungal infection and one of the molecular and histologic hallmarks of sporadic ALS. A recent study provided evidence of a variety of fungi in the cerebrospinal fluid and brain tissue of ALS patients. This review provides a rational explanation for this observation. If a fungal infection could be confirmed as a potential cause of ALS, this could provide a straightforward treatment strategy for this fatal and incurable disease.


Motor neuron disease Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis Mycotoxin Fungi Sporadic ALS 



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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of MedicineUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia
  2. 2.WilloughbySydneyAustralia
  3. 3.Neuroinflammation Group, Department of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Health SciencesMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia

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