Lectin-based food poisoning: A new mechanism of protein toxicity

Katsuya Miyake, Toru Tanaka, Paul L. McNeil

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


Background. Ingestion of the lectins present in certain improperly cooked vegetables can result in acute GI tract distress, but the mechanism of toxicity is unknown. In. vivo, gut epithelial cells are constantly exposed to mechanical and other stresses And consequently individual cells frequently experience plasma membrane disruptions. Repair of these cell surface disruptions allows the wounded cell to survive: failure results in necrotic cell death. Plasma membrane repair is mediated, in part, by an exocytotic event that adds a patch of internal membrane to the defect site. Lectins are known to inhibit exocytosis. We therefore tested the novel hypothesis that lectin toxicity is due to an inhibitory effect on plasma membrane repair. Methods and Findings. Repair of plasma membrane disruptions and exocytosis of mucus was assesed after treatment of cultured cell models and excised segments of the GI tract with lectins. Plasma membrane disruptions were produced by focal irridiation of individual cells, using a microscope-based laser, or by mechanical abrasion of multiple cells, using a syringe needle. Repair was then assessed by monitoring the cytosolic penetration of dyes incapable of crossing the intact plasma membrane. We found that cell surface-bound lectins potently inhibited plasma membrane repeir, and the exocytosis of mucus that normally accompanies the repair response. Conclusions. Lectins potently inhibit plasma membrane repair and hence are toxic to wounded cells. This represents a novel form of protein-based toxicity, one that, we propose, is the basis of Plant lectin food poisoning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere687
JournalPloS one
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2007
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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