A validated UPLC–MS/MS method for the surveillance of ten aquatic biotoxins in European brackish and freshwater systems

Brett Greer, Sara E. McNamee, Bas Boots, Lucia Cimarelli, Delphine Guillebault, Karim Helmi, Stefania Marcheggiani, Stefan Panaiotov, Ulrich Breitenbach, Reyhan Akcaalan, Linda K. Medlin, Katrin Kittler, Christopher T. Elliott, Katrina Campbell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)


Over the past few decades, there has been an increased frequency and duration of cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) in freshwater systems globally. These can produce secondary metabolites called cyanotoxins, many of which are hepatotoxins, raising concerns about repeated exposure through ingestion of contaminated drinking water or food or through recreational activities such as bathing/ swimming. An ultra-performance liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (UPLC–MS/MS) multi-toxin method has been developed and validated for freshwater cyanotoxins; microcystins-LR, -YR, -RR, -LA, -LY and -LF, nodularin, cylindrospermopsin, anatoxin-a and the marine diatom toxin domoic acid. Separation was achieved in around 9 min and dual SPE was incorporated providing detection limits of between 0.3 and 5.6 ng/L of original sample. Intra- and inter-day precision analysis showed relative
standard deviations (RSD) of 1.2–9.6% and 1.3–12.0% respectively. The method was applied to the analysis of aquatic samples (n = 206) from six European countries. The main class detected were the hepatotoxins; microcystin-YR (n = 22), cylindrospermopsin (n = 25), microcystin-RR (n = 17), microcystin-LR (n = 12), microcystin-LY (n = 1), microcystin-LF (n = 1) and nodularin (n = 5). For microcystins, the levels detected ranged from 0.001 to 1.51 mg/L, with two samples showing combined levels above the guideline set by the WHO of 1 mg/L for microcystin-LR. Several samples presented with multiple toxins indicating the potential for synergistic effects and possibly enhanced toxicity. This is the first published pan European survey of freshwater bodies for multiple biotoxins, including two identified for the first time; cylindrospermopsin in Ireland and nodularin in Germany, presenting further incentives for improved monitoring and development of strategies to mitigate human exposure.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-40
Number of pages10
JournalHarmful Algae
Publication statusPublished - May 2016


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