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Cancer Invest. 2001;19(2):114-26.

Evidence for stimulation of tumor proliferation in cell lines and histotypic cultures by clinically relevant low doses of the galactoside-binding mistletoe lectin, a component of proprietary extracts.

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  • 1Institut für Physiologische Chemie, Tierärztliche Fakultät, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Veterinärstrasse 13, D-80539 München, Germany.


The toxic galactoside-specific lectin from mistletoe, a component of proprietary extracts with unproven efficacy in oncology, exhibits capacity to trigger enhanced secretion of proinflammatory cytokines at low doses (ng/ml or ng/kg body weight) and reductions of cell viability with increasing concentrations. To infer any tumor selectivity of this activity, cytofluorimetric and cell growth assays with a variety of established human tumor cell lines were performed. Only quantitative changes were apparent, and the toxicity against tumor cells was within the range of that of the tested fibroblast preparations from 5 donors. No indication for any tumor selectivity was observed. In kinetic studies with 8 sarcoma and 4 melanoma lines, this evidence for quantitative variability of the response in interindividual comparison was further underscored. At 50 pg lectin/ml x 10(5) cells, even a growth-stimulatory impact was noted in 5 of 12 tested cases. To mimic in vivo conditions with presence of cytokine-secreting inflammatory and stromal cells, exposure to the lectin was extended to histotypic cultures established from 30 cases of surgically removed tumor. As salient result, 5 specimens from 4 of the 8 tested tumor classes responded with a significant increase of [3H]-thymidine incorporation relative to controls during the culture period of 72 hours, when the lectin was present at a concentration in the described immunomodulatory range (1 ng/ml). A relation of this activity to the extent of the actual proliferative status of the reactive samples could not be delineated. Therefore, a non-negligible percentage of the established tumor cell lines (e.g., 3 from 8 sarcoma lines) can be markedly stimulated by the lectin at a very low dose and with dependence on the cell type. Furthermore, the feasibility to elicit a significant growth enhancement is likewise documented for human tumor explants in 16.6% of the examined cases. In view of the uncontrolled application of lectin-containing extracts in alternative/complementary medicine, the presented results on unquestionably adverse lectin-dependent effects in two culture systems call for rigorous examination of the clinical safety of this unconventional, scientifically entirely experimental treatment modality.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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