04/06/2019 3 min

Pinnatoxins: emerging marine biotoxins that should be monitored in shellfish

ANSES is today publishing its expert appraisal on pinnatoxins, a family of emerging marine biotoxins that have been detected in mussels from Mediterranean lagoons. When ingested by mice, these marine biotoxins cause acute neurotoxic effects. ANSES used the available consumption data to estimate the exposure of shellfish consumers according to various scenarios. It is alerting the public authorities to the possibility of a health risk in the event of consumption of pinnatoxin-contaminated shellfish from Mediterranean lagoons, particularly from the Ingril area in the Hérault département of France. It is also recommending that these emerging biotoxins be taken into account in the monitoring of shellfish production areas. This work represents a major scientific breakthrough in the field of emerging toxins.

In view of the emergence in France of a family of marine biotoxins called pinnatoxins, ANSES was asked by the Ministries of Agriculture and Health to review the state of knowledge on this group of toxins.

New emerging marine biotoxins detected in shellfish in France

Pinnatoxins (PnTXs) are toxins produced by marine microalgae called Vulcanodinium rugosum that can accumulate in shellfish. These marine biotoxins were first identified in France in 2011 in mussels from the Ingril lagoon in the Hérault département. Since then, analyses carried out in mussels from this lagoon have shown high concentrations of PnTXs for several months each year.

Pinnatoxins have also been detected, to a lesser extent, in other regions of France, notably in mussels from other Mediterranean lagoons (Vic, le Prévost, Thau, Leucate) and on the Atlantic and Corsican coasts. Outside France, data on shellfish contamination by PnTXs have also been reported in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries in Northern and Southern Europe.

Avoid consumption of shellfish from the Ingril area in France’s Hérault département

ANSES's expert appraisal improved characterisation of the neurotoxic effects induced by this family of marine biotoxins. Experimental studies in mice have shown acute toxic effects that can be fatal if high doses are ingested. No cases of pinnatoxin poisoning in humans have been reported so far in France or anywhere else in the world.

Based on these toxicity data, ANSES identified a provisional acute benchmark value for pinnatoxin G, one of the eight toxins in the pinnatoxin family, and the one most commonly detected in shellfish in France. On the basis of this health value and the available consumption data, the Agency was able to characterise the risk to consumers. The results show that in cases of high consumption and/or high contamination of shellfish, the benchmark value could be exceeded.

ANSES therefore concluded that there is a possible health risk associated with the consumption of pinnatoxin-contaminated shellfish from Mediterranean lagoons, and particularly from the Ingril area. There is currently no shellfish production intended for sale from this area. Nevertheless, the Agency is alerting the public authorities to the need to avoid all consumption of shellfish from this area.  

Implement monitoring of pinnatoxins

In view of these results, ANSES is recommending that these toxins be taken into account in the monitoring of shellfish production areas. In particular, it recommends:

  • setting up regular monitoring of the species V. rugosum and of pinnatoxin concentrations in shellfish produced at Ingril and Thau;
  • mapping where V. rugosum is established in all shellfish growing areas of the metropolitan French coasts with a view to monitoring, particularly in the Mediterranean lagoons.

It also recommends undertaking research to more accurately estimate the exposure of shellfish consumers.

Lastly, ANSES is continuing its work as part of its health monitoring missions, to raise awareness among health professionals of the potential neurological symptoms that could be associated with pinnatoxin poisoning in humans.