Mycotoxins Impact Gut Health Via The Enteric Nervous System


Welcome to my blog post ‘Mycotoxins and their Impact On The Gut Nervous System’.

You may also be interested in the section of my blog dedicated to mycotoxins, click here, in particular:

The gastrointestinal tract, which first comes into contact with mycotoxins present in food, is particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of these toxins.

One of the lesser-known aspects of the impact of mycotoxins on the gastrointestinal tract is the influence of these substances on gastrointestinal innervation.

This blog summarises a recent review of current knowledge concerning the influence of mycotoxins on the enteric nervous system, which plays an important role, not only in almost all regulatory processes within the gastrointestinal tract, but also in adaptive and protective reactions in response to pathological and toxic factors in food.

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What Is The Enteric Nervous System?

The enteric nervous system is a specific part of the autonomic nervous system. It is situated in the wall of the gastrointestinal tract from the esophagus to the rectum and is responsible for the majority of gastrointestinal activities. In terms of the number of nerve cells, the ENS is the second largest (after the brain, and before the spinal cord) nervous structure in mammals, which may contain an estimated 200–500 million neurons.

For this reason, as well as due to the complicated structure and high autonomy, the ENS is often called the intestinal brain.

What Are Mycotoxins?

Mycotoxins are secondary metabolites produced by various fungal species. They are commonly found in a wide range of agricultural products, such as grains and dried fruit.

Mycotoxins contained in food may have harmful effects on many internal organs and systems.

The gastrointestinal tract, which first comes into contact with mycotoxins present in food, is particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of these toxins.

What Mycotoxins Effect the Gut And Enteric Nervous System?

  • Deoxynivalenol (DON)
  • T2 toxin, similar to DON, belongs to the trichothecene family.
  • Zearalenon.
  • Patulin.
  • Fumonisins.

The multidirectional adverse effects of mycotoxins on the GI tract cause that exposure to these substances may result in various disturbances of the GI activity in humans. However, the common prevalence of mycotoxins in the human environment and food indicates that participation of these chemicals in the development of intestinal diseases in humans may be an important public health problem all over the world.

What Are The Signs, Symptoms And Effects Of Mycotoxins on The Gut?

  • DON: Abdominal pain, increased salivation, diarrhoea, vomiting, anorexia, decrease in body weight gain.
  • T2: Gastrointestinal bleeding, diarrhoea, vomiting, decreased feed consumption and weight gain
  • Zearalenon: Gastrointestinal symptoms are not typical for ZEN toxicity. Decrease in feed intake and body weight, changes in intestinal microbiome.
  • Patulin: Anorexia, salivation, distended abdomen, loss of body weight, bleeding from the digestive tract and diarrhoea.
  • Fumonsins: reduction of feed, consumption, and body weight, abdominal pain, diarrhoea

The impact of mycotoxins on the intestinal barrier functions, intestinal immunity, secretory activity and gut microflora, as well as their genotoxic/mutagenic and carcinogenic effects are mainly known from experimental studies. Such studies do not always fully reflect the conditions of natural exposure to mycotoxins. The first problem is the dose of mycotoxins, which is very difficult to determine in the human diet.

The second, more important, problem is the fact that food may contain several or even a dozen mycotoxins at the same time. These mycotoxins may chemically interact with each other, which leads to changes in their toxic properties and bio-availability. In this case, synergistic interactions between mycotoxins is particularly dangerous. For example, previous studies have shown that mixtures of ZEN and DON or DON, T2 and ZEN show higher toxicity than these individual mycotoxins. Moreover, it is known that human food may also contain other active substances and contaminations, such as bacterial products, pesticides, phytotoxins, chemical contaminations and preservatives, which not only affect mycotoxin activity but may contribute to various disorders in the GI tract.

How Do Mycotoxins Effect The Gut?

  • DON: In the GI tract, toxicity with DON results in a wide range of changes, such as inflammation, changes in the intestinal villi, a decrease in the number of goblet cells in the small intestine, intensification of apoptosis and degeneration of lymphatic  cells in the gut.

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Summary (1):

  1. It is known that mycotoxins affect the enteric nervous system.
  2. This impact may be multidirectional and depends not only on the chemical structure of the mycotoxin, but also on the type of the enteric plexuses and segment of the digestive tract.
  3. Mycotoxins may act on the size and morphological properties of intestinal nervous structures and the neurochemical character of the enteric neurons.
  4. These changes are probably a result of adaptive and protective reactions, which affect homeostasis maintenance.
  5. Moreover, mycotoxin-induced changes in the ENS are often the first sign of exposure to low doses of mycotoxins.
  6. Understanding the exact mechanisms connected with the influence of mycotoxins on the intestinal innervation may be very important in determining mycotoxin dose limits, which are safe and neutral for the living organism.
  7. Unfortunately, the current information about the influence of mycotoxins on the ENS is relatively limited and elucidation of all aspects connected with this issue requires further research

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References For ‘Mycotoxins and their Impact On The Gut Nervous System’:

  1. Mycotoxins and the Enteric Nervous System: click here.
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