Science Inventory

Sublethal microcystin exposure and biochemical outcomes among hemodialysis patients


Hilborn, E, R. Soares, J. Servaites, A. Delgado, V. Magalhães, W. Carmichael, AND S. Azevedo. Sublethal microcystin exposure and biochemical outcomes among hemodialysis patients. PLoS ONE . Public Library of Science, San Francisco, CA, 8(7):e69518, (2013).


Microcystin is included in the Contaminant Candidate 3 list (CCL3) of chemicals. It had previously been included with the cyanotoxin group in CCL 1 and 2. However, there continues to be a major data gap for characterization of human health effects associated with microcystin exposure at ambient doses, as human microcystin exposure events are uncommonly detected and reported. This report describes an episode of an unusual, well documented, low dose human microcystin exposure event. This group of patients were exposed to microcystins via dialysate during their hemodialysis treatment. They were followed for clinicopathological outcomes and biological evidence of absorbed microcystin for 8 weeks after exposure. The patients display evidence of low dose exposure and health effects characterized by a mild to moderate mixed liver injury temporally associated with the microcystin exposure.


Cyanobacteria are commonly-occurring contaminants of surface waters worldwide. Microcystins, potent hepatotoxins, are among the best characterized cyanotoxins. During November, 2001, a group of 44 hemodialysis patients were exposed to microcystins via contaminated dialysate. Serum microcystin concentrations were quantified with enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay which measures free serum microcystin LR equivalents (ME). We describe serum ME concentrations and biochemical outcomes among a subset of patients during 8 weeks following exposure. Thirteen patients were included; 6 were males, patients' median age was 45 years (range 16 – 80), one was seropositive for hepatitis B surface antigen. The median serum ME concentration was 0.33 ng/mL (range: <0.16 – 0.96 ). One hundred thirty nine blood samples were collected following exposure. Patients’ biochemical outcomes varied, but overall indicated a mixed liver injury. Linear regression evaluated each patient’s weekly mean biochemical outcome with their maximum serum ME concentration; a measure of the extrinsic pathway of clotting function, prothrombin time, was negatively and significantly associated with serum ME concentrations. This group of exposed patients’ biochemical outcomes display evidence of a mixed liver injury temporally associated with microcystin exposure. Interpretation of biochemical outcomes are complicated by the study population’s underlying chronic disease status. It is clear that dialysis patients are a distinct ‘at risk’ group for cyanotoxin exposures due to direct intravenous exposure to dialysate prepared from surface drinking water supplies. Careful monitoring and treatment of water supplies used to prepare dialysate is required to prevent future microcystin exposure events.


EPHD-13-032-ABSTRACT.PDF   (PDF,NA pp, 393.342 KB,  about PDF)

Record Details:

Product Published Date: 07/24/2013
Record Last Revised: 10/28/2013
OMB Category: Other
Record ID: 258285