The toxins involved in ciguatera (fish poisoning) in the Caribbean Sea were isolated from Caranx latus, a pelagic fish often implicated in ciguatera in the Caribbean region, and purified by mouse bioassay directed fractionation. Five toxins were separated by reverse-phase high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). In order of increasing hydrophobicity, these toxins included a sleep-inducing fraction (< 1% of total toxicity), a major Caribbean ciguatoxin (C-CTX-1, 65% of toxicity), a minor Caribbean ciguatoxin (C-CTX-2, 13% of toxicity), a minor toxin (approximately 1% of toxicity) and a hydrophobic, fast-acting toxin (approximately 19% of toxicity). The i.p. injection into mice of each toxin induced signs typical of site-5 sodium channel activator toxins such as the Pacific ciguatoxins and brevetoxins. C-CTX-1 and C-CTX-2 were purified to homogeneity (LD50 = 3.6 and approximately 1 microgram/kg, respectively) and subjected to ion spray mass spectrometry. Both lost up to five H2O molecules and each had a [M+H]+ ion, m/z 1141.7, suggesting that C-CTX-1 and -2 are diastereomers that differ from the Pacific family of ciguatoxins. Turbo-assisted HPLC-mass spectrometry identified C-CTX-1, C-CTX-2 and three C-CTX-1-related compounds in an enriched fraction but no Pacific ciguatoxins were detected. The presence of different families of ciguatoxins in ciguateric fish from the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean probably underlies the clinical differences in the ciguatera syndrome reported in these two regions. A Caribbean strain of the benthic dinoflagellate, Gambierdiscus toxicus, is suspected as source of these ciguatoxins. The extent to which these toxins are biotransformed as they pass through the marine food chain remains to be determined.