Is exposure to BMAA a risk factor for neurodegenerative diseases? A response to a critical review of the BMAA hypothesis

R. A. Dunlop, S. A. Banack, S. L. Bishop, J. S. Metcalf, S. J. Murch, D. A. Davis, E. W. Stommel, O. Karlsson, E. B. Brittebo, A. D. Chatziefthimiou, V. X. Tan, G. J. Guillemin, P. A. Cox, D. C. Chatziefthimiou, W. G. Bradley

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9 Citations (Scopus)
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In a literature survey, Chernoff et al. (2017) dismissed the hypothesis that chronic exposure to β-N-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) may be a risk factor for progressive neurodegenerative disease. They question the growing scientific literature that suggests the following: (1) BMAA exposure causes ALS/PDC among the indigenous Chamorro people of Guam; (2) Guamanian ALS/PDC shares clinical and neuropathological features with Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and ALS; (3) one possible mechanism for protein misfolds is misincorporation of BMAA into proteins as a substitute for L-serine; and (4) chronic exposure to BMAA through diet or environmental exposures to cyanobacterial blooms can cause neurodegenerative disease. We here identify multiple errors in their critique including the following: (1) their review selectively cites the published literature; (2) the authors reported favorably on HILIC methods of BMAA detection while the literature shows significant matrix effects and peak coelution in HILIC that may prevent detection and quantification of BMAA in cyanobacteria; (3) the authors build alternative arguments to the BMAA hypothesis, rather than explain the published literature which, to date, has been unable to refute the BMAA hypothesis; and (4) the authors erroneously attribute methods to incorrect studies, indicative of a failure to carefully consider all relevant publications. The lack of attention to BMAA research begins with the review's title which incorrectly refers to BMAA as a "non-essential" amino acid. Research regarding chronic exposure to BMAA as a cause of human neurodegenerative diseases is emerging and requires additional resources, validation, and research. Here, we propose strategies for improvement in the execution and reporting of analytical methods and the need for additional and well-executed inter-lab comparisons for BMAA quantitation. We emphasize the need for optimization and validation of analytical methods to ensure that they are fit-for-purpose. Although there remain gaps in the literature, an increasingly large body of data from multiple independent labs using orthogonal methods provides increasing evidence that chronic exposure to BMAA may be a risk factor for neurological illness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-106
Number of pages26
JournalNeurotoxicity Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2021. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • BMAA
  • ALS
  • Cyanobacteria
  • Neurodegenerative diseases
  • Neurodegeneration


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