• receptor binding assay;
  • paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP);
  • saxitoxin;
  • Alexandrium;
  • toxin trophic transfer;
  • microplate scintillation counting;
  • high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC)


We recently described a high throughput receptor binding assay for paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) toxins, the use of the assay for detecting toxic activity in shellfish and algal extracts, and the validation of 11-[3H]-tetrodotoxin as an alternative radioligand to the [3H]-saxitoxin conventionally employed in the assay. Here, we report a dramatic increase in assay efficiency through application of microplate scintillation technology, resulting in an assay turn around time of 4 h. Efforts are now focused on demonstrating the range of applications for which this receptor assay can provide data comparable to the more time consuming, technically demanding HPLC analysis of PSP toxins, currently the method of choice for researchers. To date, we have compared the results of both methods for a variety of sample types, including different genera of PSP toxin producing dinoflagellates (e.g. Alexandrium lusitanicum, r2 = 0.9834, n = 12), size-fractioned field samples of Alexandrium spp. (20–64 µm; r2 = 0.9997, n = 10) as well as its associated zooplankton grazer community (200–500 µm: r2 = 0.6169, n = 10; >500 µm: r2 = 0.5063, n = 10), and contaminated human fluids (r2 = 0.9661, n = 7) from a PSP outbreak. Receptor-based STX equivalent values for all but the zooplankton samples were highly correlated and exhibited close quantitative agreement with those produced by HPLC. While the PSP receptor binding assay does not provide information on toxin composition obtainable by HPLC, it does represent a robust and reliable means of rapidly assessing PSP-like toxicity in laboratory and field samples. Moreover, this assay should be effective as a screening tool for use by public health officials in responding to suspected cases of PSP intoxication. Published in 1999 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.