Assessing Cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Blooms as Risk Factors for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

Nathan Torbick, Beth Ziniti, Elijah Stommel, Ernst Linder, Angeline Andrew, Tracie Caller, Jim Haney, Walter Bradley, Patricia L. Henegan, Xun Shi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Reoccurring seasonal cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms (CHABs) persist in many waters, and recent work has shown links between CHAB and elevated risk of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Quantifying the exposure levels of CHAB as a potential risk factor for ALS is complicated by human mobility, potential pathways, and data availability. In this work, we develop phycocyanin concentration (i.e., CHAB exposure) maps using satellite remote sensing across northern New England to assess relationships with ALS cases using a spatial epidemiological approach. Strategic semi-analytical regression models integrated Landsat and in situ observations to map phycocyanin concentration (PC) for all lakes greater than 8 ha (n = 4117) across the region. Then, systematic versions of a Bayesian Poisson Log-linear model were fit to assess the mapped PC as a risk factor for ALS while accounting for model uncertainty and modifiable area unit problems. The satellite remote sensing of PC had strong overall ability to map conditions (adj. R2, 0.86; RMSE, 11.92) and spatial variability across the region. PC tended to be positively associated with ALS risk with the level of significance depending on fixed model components. Meta-analysis shows that when average PC exposure is 100 μg/L, an all model average odds ratio is 1.48, meaning there is about a 48% increase in average ALS risk. This research generated the first regionally comprehensive map of PC for thousands of lakes and integrated robust spatial uncertainty. The outcomes support the hypothesis that cyanotoxins increase the risk of ALS, which helps our understanding of the etiology of ALS.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)199-212
Number of pages14
JournalNeurotoxicity Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018


  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • BMAA
  • Cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms
  • Remote sensing
  • Spatial epidemiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Toxicology


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