Penitrem A - The tremor toxin

  • tremorgenic (causing tremors) mycotoxin (fungal toxin) produced by a couple of species of fungi of the genus Penicillium, including P. cyclopium and P. crustosum (a common food spoilage fungus)
  • suspected to be the cause of Ijesha Shakes, a condition that occurs in Western Nigerians that is characterized by incapacitating leg tremors that occur after eating and last for up to a couple of days, with a full recovery thereafter
  • human cases of suspected penitrem A poisoning have been reported, with a presentation of generalized severe muscle tremors (uncontrollable shaking) with loss of mobility and speech, along with diaphoresis (excessive sweating, often associated with shock), and general unhappiness
  • cases of poisoning in dogs have also be reported, so try not to let your puppy eat any moldy food
  • also thought to be responsible for some cases of Grass Staggers, a disease in sheep, horses, and cattle that features ataxia (staggering about) and tremors following grass consumption
    • Penicillium are soil fungi that can be found on grass, so this makes sense
    • the disease is more commonly associated with a magnesium deficiency (hypomagnesaemia)
  • large doses have been shown to cause seizures, massive liver necrosis, and death in lab animals
  • has been shown to modulate the release of neurotransmitters in neural cell cultures and, more excitingly, cause the degeneration of Purkinje cells in the cerebellar cortex
    • the cerebellum is a part of the brain responsible for motor coordination, suggesting that the tremors and ataxia that penitrem A causes are the result of it dropping a world of pain on cerebellar cells
- di Menna ME, Mantle PG. The role of Penicillia in ryegrass staggers. Res Vet Sci. 1978 May;24(3):347-51
- Lewis PR et al. Tremor syndrome associated with a fungal toxin: sequelae of food contamination. Med J Aust. 2005 Jun 6;182(11):582-4. [link to full article]
- Kendrick, B. (2001). The Fifth Kingdom (3rd. ed.). Sidney, British Columbia: Mycologue Publications. [great book on fungi!]
- Walter SL. Acute penitrem A and roquefortine poisoning in a dog. Can Vet J. 2002 May;43(5):372-4. [link to full article]

2 chemically inspired comments:

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. I have never heard of grass tetany being associated with a fungal toxin. The common understanding is that is is the result of nitrogen over-fertilization on magnesium (dolomite)-poor soils, especially in springtime when growth is lush. It would be interesting to see if the Penicillium toxin really exerted an effect here.

Tiffany said...

I am living proof that the Penicillium Toxin does cause tremors. I am hyper-allergic to Penicillium and unknowingly lived in a house for two years that was overrun with the mold. I became ill shortly after moving in and a year after living there, I developed tremors that eventually developed into choreoataxia. I even have video of these episodes. The penicillium was mostly in the kitchen and my doctors believe that I easily could have accidentally ingested it.

After reviewing my case, a professor of Neurology and Physiology who works in the UCSF Movement Disorders Clinic, discovered that although rare, this commonly does occur in livestock animals and has been reported in humans.

So I guess that makes me one in a million, right? Everyone has a talent.