Microcystins (MCYs) are cyanobacterial heptapeptides known for their high toxicity in eukaryotic cells and for their potential human health hazards. They are potent and specific inhibitors of type 1 and 2A, serine-threonine protein phosphatases (PP1 and PP2A) and as such, interfere with key cellular and metabolic events. Moreover, they induce oxidative stress involving reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation. Their cytoskeletal effects involve both mitotic and differentiated eukaryotic cells. The main objective of the present review is to summarize the most important cytoskeletal effects of MCY on human, animal and plant cells known to date and to give an insight into the cellular and molecular background of these alterations. Disruptions of microtubule (MTs), microfilament (MF) and intermediate filament (IF) organization have all been described, having consequences on cell shape, tissue integrity and functionality and mitotic division. Most of these subcellular changes are closely related to PP1 and PP2A inhibition and involve misfunctioning of cytoskeleton associated proteins. However, several cytoskeletal alterations are likely to be related to the induction of oxidative stress. MCY induced changes in MT, MF and IF assembly may have severe human health consequences. The main target of cyanotoxin in human/ animal cells is liver and cytoskeletal disruption alters structure and functioning of hepatocytes. However, many other cell types undergo alterations similar to those observed in hepatocytes. Both PP1/PP2A inhibition and ROS generation are involved and the activation of mitogen activated protein kinases (MAPKs) seems to play a crucial role in the molecular events leading to cytoskeletal disruption.
Keywords: Intermediate filaments, microcystin, microfilaments, microtubules, oxidative stress, protein phosphatase.