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Aflatoxin production and in vitro toxicity of Aspergilli section Flavi isolated from air samples collected from different environments


Aspergilli section Flavi, originally isolated from air samples collected from inhabited apartments (AP), unoccupied basements (BS), and processing facilities of a grain mill (GM), were analyzed for their potential to produce aflatoxin B1 (AFB1) on solid media. The isolates were further characterized with regard to their cytotoxic, genotoxic, and pro-inflammatory properties in vitro. Aspergilli were identified based on partial calmodulin (CaM) gene sequencing; the producing capacities of isolates were analyzed by HPLC/FLD and confirmed by genes in biosynthesis (aflR, norA, omtA). In the grain mill, the Aspergilli section Flavi (up to 1.3 × 106 cfu/m3) dominated by AFB1-producing Aspergillus flavus (71%, 4.5–5254 ng/ml) which showed a serious health risk for workers. Living environments were not relevant sources of exposure. After 24 h, AFB1 (1–100 μmol/l) reduced cell viability (MTT test) in both A549 cells and THP-1 macrophage-like cells without reaching IC50. In A549 cells, the extract of the AFB1-producing A. flavus significantly decreased cell viability but not below 50%. THP-1 macrophage-like cells were more sensitive to both extracts, but IC50 was obtained only for the AFB1-producing strain (0.37 mg/ml; AFB1 2.78 μmol/l). AFB1 (1 and 10 μmol/l) induced significant DNA damage (tail intensity, alkaline comet assay) in A549 cells in contrast to Aspergilli extracts. AFB1 elevated IL-6 and IL-8, while Aspergilli extracts increased IL-1β, TNF-α, and IL-17 release in THP-1 macrophages (ELISA). Chronic exposure to AFB1 and/or other metabolites in airborne A. flavus from occupational environments may stimulate epithelial damage of airways accompanied by lowered macrophage viability.

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This work was financially supported by the University of Zagreb (Grant No. 1126). This study forms part of the project GINOP-2.3.2-15-2016-00012, supported by the European Social Fund. This work was also supported by OTKA grant Nos. K115690 and K8407 as well as through András Szekeres, who received support through the new national excellence program of the Hungarian Ministry of Human Capacities.

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Correspondence to Maja Šegvić Klarić.

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Jakšić, D., Kocsubé, S., Bencsik, O. et al. Aflatoxin production and in vitro toxicity of Aspergilli section Flavi isolated from air samples collected from different environments. Mycotoxin Res 35, 217–230 (2019).

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  • Airborne fungi
  • Aflatoxin B1
  • Cytotoxicity
  • DNA damage
  • Cytokines