BACKGROUND: The fungus Aspergillus fumigatus, whose spores are present ubiquitously in the air, causes a range of diseases in the human lung. A small molecular weight (< 10 kD) heat stable toxin released from the spores of clinical and environmental isolates of A fumigatus within minutes of deposition in aqueous solution has previously been described. A key effect of the toxin was to inhibit the oxidative burst of macrophages as measured by superoxide anion release. It was hypothesised that the toxin was one of the commonly found A fumigatus hyphal toxins such as gliotoxin. This inhibitor may be an important factor which allows the fungus to colonise the lung. METHODS: The spore derived inhibitor was shown to inhibit the respiratory burst of rat alveolar macrophages, as measured by the generation of superoxide anion. Samples of the spore diffusate were subject to reversed phase high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), thin layer chromatography (TLC), high performance thin layer chromatography (HPTLC), or organic extraction followed by TLC or HPLC to identify the presence of gliotoxin, fumagillin, helvolic acid, fumigaclavine-C, and aurasperone-C. Commercially obtained preparations of the toxins gliotoxin, fumagillin and helvolic acid and extracts enriched for fumigaclavine-C and aurasperone-C were used as internal and external standards and in the respiratory burst measurements. RESULTS: Gliotoxin, fumagillin, helvolic acid, fumigaclavine-C, and aurasperone-C were not detected in spore derived diffusate using PHLC or TLC. Using extraction procedures with solvents known to extract gliotoxin from A fumigatus culture supernatants, no gliotoxin was detected in the spore derived diffusate. Commercial gliotoxin, fumagillin, and helvolic acid or extracts enriched for fumigaclavine-C and aurasperone-C did not inhibit the oxidative burst of macrophages. CONCLUSIONS: The hypothesis that the spore derived toxin is one of the toxins derived from hyphae such as gliotoxin, helvolic acid, fumagillin, fumigaclavine-C, or aurasperone-C is not proved. The spore toxin may exert its effect through its ability to diffuse rapidly into the lung lining fluid, diminish the macrophage oxidative burst, and play a part in allowing A fumigatus to persist in the lung and manifest its well known pathogenic effects.
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