Bioterrorism: toxins as potential biological weapons - an emerging global health threat


Intentional bioterrorism attacks have has been recorded throughout history, and research in medical defence against intentional biological threats has become a growing priority. Biological warfare is defined as the intentional use of living organisms such as bacteria, viruses and fungi with the intent to cause disease, death, or environmental damage. Toxins represent a specific new category of possible bio-terror agents owing their high toxicity, ease of production and ease of dissemination. Most of bacterial toxins are large proteins that affect either the nervous system (neurotoxins) or damage cell membranes. Some of these compounds are used for military purposes, other are less known and used but have the potential for use in terrorist–designed biological weapons.

Methods & Materials:

Toxins are and heterogeneous groups of compounds, that share commonalities both with biological and chemical agents, produced by bacteria, plants and animals; most of the toxins specifically affect the mammalian nervous system, developing severe adverse health effects. The detection of biological agents is often very difficult as the illness can take anywhere from several hours to week, depending of the agent. There is not specific antidote or effective treatment from most of the biotoxins. Different technologies for toxin detection have been established, but hardly any universally agreed reference methods or reference materials are available. Understanding the mechanism of structure, action and toxicity represent the starting approach to develop adequate and timely medical countermeasures. The authors would like to analyze and reviewing these toxins, discussing the structure, symptoms, toxicity and treatment, along with their potential malevolent use.


The aim is to provide specific information to enhance specific medical preparedness and response, to enable further understanding of these toxins and their potential role as biological weapons.


Biotoxins are highly toxic and can be used as potential bioweapons for military or terrorist scope, representing a problem of national or international concern in public health and homeland security. Understanding the global profile of these toxins is crucial for health and risk assessment and to develop effective medical countermeasures, in order to minimize the adverse health effects and prevent fatalities.



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