Fungal neurotoxins and sporadic amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Peter W. French*, Russell Ludowyke, Gilles J. Guillemin

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    21 Citations (Scopus)


    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.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)969-980
    Number of pages12
    JournalNeurotoxicity Research
    Issue number4
    Early online date5 Dec 2018
    Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2019


    • motor neuron disease
    • amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
    • mycotoxin
    • fungi
    • sporadic ALS


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