Fusarium

Photo of Sharol Tilgner
Fusarium mold growing

Common Fungus Among Us

The genus Fusarium is common in soil, marine and river environments as well as on plants all over the world. F. species are some of the most problematic molds known in the northern temperate regions of the world. It can grow and spread even at colder temperatures. They are responsible for many plant diseases and they can produce potent mycotoxins. Fusarium is usually white or pinkish/purplish-white in color and is more commonly associated with the mycotoxins zearalenone, deoxynivalenol, T-2 toxin and fumonisins.

Where Fusarium Is Found

Fusarium is common in the soil, grows in compost and food products. Fusarium is found in accumulated dust, potted plants, and in greenhouses. Fusarium is also found in water-damaged buildings where it is considered an indicator mold for water-damage.

Mycotoxins Are Associated With Fusarium

Fusarium mycotoxins are commonly found on food along with the Fusarium mold, especially grains. Besides ingestion of mycotoxins on food, fusarium mycotoxins growing on food or more likely growing in a building can also gain access to the body by inhalation and the skin. Fusarium is considered both allergenic and toxigenic. Many of the Fusarium mycotoxins are associated with water-damaged buildings and can make people ill. Fusarium species are usually found under wet conditions where they thrive and they can grow in colder temperatures. They have been found in carpets, mattress dust, fabrics, damp walls, wallpaper, polyurethane foam, wood, humidifiers, and HVAC systems. Fusarium is associated with negative health effects and has been known to induce fusariosis or mold pneumonia - usually in immunocompromised individuals,  infect fingernails although not common and has also been known to cause keratitis and sinusitis in humans too. In one study skin was the most common site of infection of Fusarium. Allergenic reactions to Fusarium include hay fever like symptoms, and asthma. Wounds such as surgical wounds, deep ulcers and burns have been known to become infected with fusarium even in immune competent hosts. Fusarium is the second most frequent fungal pathogen, after Aspergillus, in high-risk patients with hematological malignancies, recipients of solid organ and allogeneic bone marrow, or stem cell transplants. Some of the species more commonly found include F. solani, F. moniliforme (=F. verticilloides), F. culmorum, and F. oxysporum. Others include F. anthophilum, F. chlamydosporum, F. dimerum, F. equiseti, F. lichenicola, F. napi forme, F. proliferatum, F. Semitecum.

Fusarium is often slimy and this  is said to decrease their aerosolization while alive, but once spores are dry they become airborne.

Nasty Mycotoxins Fusarium Is Known To Produce

Fusarium species produce fumonisins, zearalenone, sterigmatocystin, Enniatin, Citrinin, beauvericin and trichothecenes (listed below).

Trichothecenes

The trichothecenes are a large family of chemically related toxins and those known to be made by Fusarium include:

  • T2 Toxin
  • HT-2
  • Diacetoxyscirpenol (DAS)
  • Fusarenone-X (FUS-X),
  • Nivalenol (NIV),
  • Diacetylnivalenol (DAS),
  • Neosolaniol
  • Deoxynivalenol (DON)

Fumonisins and DON

These are the most common mycotoxins detected in conjunction with Fusarium and luckily not the most toxic of the Fusarium toxins. However, they are still associated with illness in both farm animals and humans.

Fumonisins

Fumonisins, specifically the B series are associated with toxicity to multiple organs including the cardiovascular system, liver, lung, and kidneys in animals. Responses to FB1 appear to be species specific. Pigs are along with horses, the most sensitive species to fumonisins. Considering that humans often have similar reactions as to pigs in studies, I would guess we might be more sensitive also. A typical and species-specific presentation of FB1 acute mycotoxicosis in pigs is pulmonary edema, a sign that has been reported only in this species and appears to be caused by an acute left-sided heart failure. They are classified as a a possible human carcinogen and associated with increased prevalence of esophageal and liver cancer in humans. The American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians has recommended maximum levels of 5, 10, and 50 ppm fumonisin B1 (the most commonly detected of more than 11 structurally related fumonisins) in feed for horses, swine, and beef and poultry, respectively.

In Switzerland they have set the limit for fumonisins in human food to be 1ppm.

Deoxynivalenol

Deoxynivalenol has been shown to inhibit protein synthesis and modulate the immune response. It can cause acute effects of nausea, vomitting and diarrhea in humans. Chronic effects are not well known. In animals chronic ingestion has been shown to cause anorexia, growth retardation, immunotoxicity, reproductive impairment, and impaired fetal development. On a pathophysiological  level, problems with neuroendocrine signaling, induction of pro-inflammatory genes, altered gut integrity and growth hormone axis disruption is seen.

In humans DON is thought to be primarily excreted in the urine. In the UK it has been determined that about 72% of DON is excreted in the urine and in a study I read with one person who ingested DON, he excreted 68% in his urine. Not a big study but how many people are willing to consume food knowingly contaminated with DON? I would guess that 72% is about right. As this one person was at 60% the first day and then up to 71% the second three days. DON urinary metabolites disappeared 21.5 hours after the last dietary exposure. The most highly contaminated urine samples showed up 3-5 hours after the contaminated meal. The glucuronidation rate was  76% which is similar to UK results in prior research. Glurucronidation is used to conjugate and remove it from the body.

Fusarium Toxins In Food

Fusarium toxin production in food largely depends on environmental conditions, such as temperature and humidity. This means fusarium toxin contamination can not be avoided completely. Therefore, exposure to these toxins are a permanent health risk for both humans and farm animals.

Another notable Fusarium mycotoxins found in food is zearalenone.

Zearalenone

Zearalenone is a nonsteroidal, estrogenic mycotoxin and has been shown to be able to bind competitively to estrogen receptors. It is thought to be one of the most hazardous natural endocrine disruptors in our environment. It has been shown to produce reproductive disorders in animals and humans.

Zearalenone has a more complex metabolism than does DON. It has a variety of degradation and conjugation products. In a study of one person ingesting ZEN about 10% of it was excreted in urine 3-10 hours after eating.

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