Massive phytoplankton proliferation, and the consequent release of toxic metabolites, can be responsible for seafood poisoning outbreaks: filter-feeding mollusks, such as shellfish, mussels, oysters or clams, can accumulate these toxins throughout the food chain and present a threat for consumers’ health. Particular environmental and climatic conditions favor this natural phenomenon, called harmful algal blooms (HABs); the phytoplankton species mostly involved in these toxic events are dinoflagellates or diatoms belonging to the genera Alexandrium
, and Pseudo-nitzschia
. Substantial economic losses ensue after HABs occurrence: the sectors mainly affected include commercial fisheries, tourism, recreational activities, and public health monitoring and management. A wide range of symptoms, from digestive to nervous, are associated to human intoxication by biotoxins, characterizing different and specific syndromes, called paralytic shellfish poisoning, amnesic shellfish poisoning, diarrhetic shellfish poisoning, and neurotoxic shellfish poisoning. This review provides a complete and updated survey of phycotoxins usually found in marine invertebrate organisms and their relevant properties, gathering information about the origin, the species where they were found, as well as their mechanism of action and main effects on humans.
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