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Moldy whiff kills brain cells

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10:57am, March 21, 2006

From San Diego, at a meeting of the Society of Toxicology

Watch out, Hurricane Katrina and Rita cleanup crews. A common black mold that blooms on moist cellulose-based materials—from wallboard and ceiling tiles to cardboard—creates a toxin that can kill certain brain cells. In an experiment with mice, the chemical, satratoxin, targeted neurons running from the inside of the nose to the brain's smell center.

"This is the first demonstration that a neuron can be killed by satratoxin," notes Jack R. Harkema of Michigan State University in East Lansing.

The fungal toxin's "specificity is what's really unique," notes Harkema's Michigan State colleague James J. Pestka. Among the exposed nasal cells, the toxin proved lethal only to those that sense odors.

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