Climate change and regulation of hepatotoxin production in Cyanobacteria


  • Michelle M. Gehringer,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Plant Ecology and Systematics, Technical University of Kaiserslautern, Kaiserslautern, Germany
    • Correspondence: Michelle M. Gehringer, Department of Plant Ecology and Systematics, Technical University of Kaiserslautern, Gottlieb-Daimler Str. Geb.13, 67663 Kaiserslautern, Germany. Tel.: +49 (0)631 68031144; fax: +49 (0)631 2052998; e-mail:

    Search for more papers by this author
  • Nicola Wannicke

    1. Leibniz-Institute for Baltic Sea Research, Rostock, Germany
    2. Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fishery, Berlin, Germany
    Search for more papers by this author


Harmful, bloom-forming cyanobacteria (CyanoHABs) are occurring with increasing regularity in freshwater and marine ecosystems. The most commonly occurring cyanobacterial toxins are the hepatotoxic microcystin and nodularin. These cyclic hepta- and pentapeptides are synthesised nonribosomally by the gene products of the toxin gene clusters mcy and nda, respectively. Understanding of the regulation of hepatotoxin production is incomplete, although there is strong evidence supporting the roles of iron, light, higher nitrate availability and inorganic carbon in modulating microcystin levels. The majority of these studies have focused on the unicellular freshwater, microcystin-producing strain of Microcystis aeruginosa, with little attention being paid to terrestrial or marine toxin producers. This review intends to investigate the regulation of microcystin and nodularin production in unicellular and filamentous diazotrophic cyanobacteria against the background of changing climate conditions. Special focus is given to diazotrophic filamentous cyanobacteria, for example Nodularia spumigena, capable of regulating their nitrogen levels by actively fixing dinitrogen. By combining data from significant studies, an overall scheme of the regulation of toxin production is presented, focussing specifically on nodularin production in diazotrophs against the background of increasing carbon dioxide concentrations and temperatures envisaged under current climate change models. Furthermore, the risk of sustaining and spreading CyanoHABs in the future ocean is evaluated.