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J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 70:4-8 doi:10.1136/jnnp.70.1.4
  • Review

Neurology of ciguatera

  1. J Pearn
  1. Graduate School of Medicine, University of Queensland, and Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Royal Children's Hospital, Brisbane, Queensland 4029, Australia
  1. Professor J Pearnj.pearn{at}mailbox.uq.edu.au
  • Received 31 March 2000
  • Revised 15 August 2000
  • Accepted 23 August 2000

Abstract

Ciguatera is a widespread ichthyosarcotoxaemia with dramatic and clinically important neurological features. This severe form of fish poisoning may present with either acute or chronic intoxication syndromes and constitutes a global health problem. Ciguatera poisoning is little known in temperate countries as a potentially global problem associated with human ingestion of large carnivorous fish that harbour the bioaccumulated ciguatoxins of the photosynthetic dinoflagellateGambierdiscus toxicus. This neurotoxin is stored in the viscera of fish that have eaten the dinoflagellate and concentrated it upwards throughout the food chain towards progressively larger species, including humans. Ciguatoxin accumulates in all fish tissues, especially the liver and viscera, of “at risk” species. Both Pacific (P-CTX-1) and Caribbean (C-CTX-1) ciguatoxins are heat stable polyether toxins and pose a health risk at concentrations above 0.1 ppb. The presenting signs of ciguatera are primarily neurotoxic in more than 80% of cases. Such include the pathognomonic features of postingestion paraesthesiae, dysaesthesiae, and heightened nociperception. Other sensory abnormalities include the subjective features of metallic taste, pruritis, arthralgia, myalgia, and dental pain. Cerebellar dysfunction, sometimes diphasic, and weakness due to both neuropathy and polymyositis may be encountered. Autonomic dysfunction leads to hypotension, bradycardia, and hypersalivation in severe cases. Ciguatoxins are potent, lipophilic sodium channel activator toxins which bind to the voltage sensitive (site 5) sodium channel on the cell membranes of all excitable tissues. Treatment depends on early diagnosis and the early administration of intravenous mannitol. The early identification of the neurological features in sentinel patients has the potential to reduce the number of secondary cases in cluster outbreaks.

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