Stachybotrys chartarum, trichothecene mycotoxins, and damp building-related illness: new insights into a public health enigma.
Damp building-related illnesses (DBRI) include a myriad of respiratory, immunologic, and neurologic symptoms that are sometimes etiologically linked to aberrant indoor growth of the toxic black mold, Stachybotrys chartarum. Although supportive evidence for such linkages is limited, there are exciting new findings about this enigmatic organism relative to its environmental dissemination, novel bioactive components, unique cellular targets, and molecular mechanisms of action which provide insight into the S. chartarum's potential to evoke allergic sensitization, inflammation, and cytotoxicity in the upper and lower respiratory tracts. Macrocyclic trichothecene mycotoxins, produced by one chemotype of this fungus, are potent translational inhibitors and stress kinase activators that appear to be a critical underlying cause for a number of adverse effects. Notably, these toxins form covalent protein adducts in vitro and in vivo and, furthermore, cause neurotoxicity and inflammation in the nose and brain of the mouse. A second S. chartarum chemotype has recently been shown to produce atranones-mycotoxins that can induce pulmonary inflammation. Other biologically active products of this fungus that might contribute to pathophysiologic effects include proteinases, hemolysins, beta-glucan, and spirocyclic drimanes. Solving the enigma of whether Stachybotrys inhalation indeed contributes to DBRI will require studies of the pathophysiologic effects of low dose chronic exposure to well-characterized, standardized preparations of S. chartarum spores and mycelial fragments, and, coexposures with other environmental cofactors. Such studies must be linked to improved assessments of human exposure to this fungus and its bioactive constituents in indoor air using both state-of-the-art sampling/analytical methods and relevant biomarkers.