Distribution of the neurotoxic nonprotein amino acid BMAA in Cycas micronesica

Authors

  • SANDRA ANNE BANACK,

    1. Department of Biological Science, California State University, Fullerton, CA 92834, USA
    2. The Institute for Ethnobotany, National Tropical Botanical Garden, Kalaheo, HI 96741, USA
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  • PAUL ALAN COX fls

    Corresponding author
    1. The Institute for Ethnobotany, National Tropical Botanical Garden, Kalaheo, HI 96741, USA
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*E-mail: paulcox@ntbg.org

Abstract

BMAA (β-methylamino-L-alanine), a nonprotein amino acid with neurotoxic properties occurs in the cycad Cycas micronesica Hill in Guam. BMAA may have originally played a role as an antiherbivory compound in the plant, but is now of great interest because of its possible link to ALS-PDC, a neurological disease among the Chamorro people of Guam. Biomagnified cycad neurotoxins may play a role because they accumulate in flying foxes of the genus Pteropus that are eaten during traditional feasts. Since flying foxes feed on the seed sarcotesta it is important to understand the distribution of BMAA in the various tissues of the cycad. Using HPLC techniques, we quantified both BMAA and glutamic acid (GLU) in all cycad tissues. Although GLU is distributed randomly throughout the plant, BMAA is concentrated in cycad reproductive organs, with the highest concentrations being found in the immature staminate sporangium and the outmost layer of the sarcotesta. This finding is consistent with the putative evolutionary role of BMAA as an antiherbivory compound, as well as the biomagnification of the compound in flying foxes that ingest the seed sarcotesta. © 2003 The Linnean Society of London, Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 2003, 143, 165–168.

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