Laboratoire de Chimie, Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France.
Gyromitra esculenta (Pers.: Fr.) Fr. and a few other mushrooms have caused severe poisonings and even deaths in humans. Clinical data are characterized primarily by vomiting and diarrhoea, followed by jaundice, convulsions and coma. Gastrointestinal disorders distinguish this poisoning. Frequent consumption can cause hepatitis and neurological diseases. The species of concern are mainly G. esculenta and G. gigas (Kromb.) Cooke (non Phill.). Nevertheless, recent advances in chromatography, biochemistry and toxicology have established that other Ascomycetes species also may prove toxic. Gyromitrin (acetaldehyde methylformylhydrazone, G) and its homologues are toxic compounds that convert in vivo into N-methyl-N-formylhydrazine (MFH), and then into N-methylhydrazine (MH). The toxicity of these chemicals, which are chiefly hepatotoxic and even carcinogenic, has been established through in vivo and in vitro experiments using animals, cell cultures and biochemical systems. When we consider the chemical nature and the reactivity of these natural compounds, we suggest that chemical and biochemical mechanisms may explain their intrinsic biological activity.