Ergot alkaloids are a complex family of mycotoxins derived from prenylated tryptophan in several species of fungi. Most commonly, these mycotoxins are associated with species of Claviceps, Epichloe and Neotyphodium that are endophytic symbionts of grasses, particularly rye grass. They are associated with rye grass staggers in cattle, horses and humans.
Probably the most famous of these is lysergic acid (LSD), promoted by cults in the 1960s. The ergot alkaloids affect the central and sympathetic nervous system, immune and reproductive systems, resulting in symptoms such as muscle contractions, changes in blood pressure, lowered immune response, reduced lactation and reproductive capability, disturbances in sleep/wake cycles, hallucinations and gangrene of the extremities.
Ergot alkaloids exert their effects by acting in some cases as partial agonists, or, in other cases, as antagonists at receptors for 5-HT (5-hydroxytryptamine or serotonin), dopamine and noradrenaline (for review, see Pannaccione, 2005).
In addition, to the above genera, ergot alkaloids are also produced by species of Aspergillus and Penicillium.
Aspergillus fumigatus has been shown to produce the following ergot alkaloids: Chanoclavine, Festuclavine, Fumigaclavine A, B and C (Pannaccione, 2005). These mycotoxins are produced in the spores and are not present in the hyphae of A. fumigatus. The interest in A. fumigatus and its ergot alkaloids stems from the facts that it is a human pathogen and is present in water-damaged buildings.
The role of A. Fumigatus ergot alkaloids in invasive aspergillosis has not been investigated. However, these mycotoxins are present on and in the spores of this fungus.
The spores of A. Fumigatus are 2.8 microns in diameter. Therefore, they are small enough to penetrate deep into the alveoli of lungs. Thus, it appears that another group of toxic mycotoxins, ergot alkaloids in water-damaged buildings, needs further attention.