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Crit Rev Oral Biol Med. 2002;13(2):184-96.

Interaction of plant polyphenols with salivary proteins.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry and Faculty of Dentistry, University of Toronto, 1 King's College Circle, Toronto M5S 1A8, Ontario, Canada.


Tannins are polyphenols that occur widespread in plant-based food. They are considered to be part of the plant defense system against environmental stressors. Tannins have a number of effects on animals, including growth-rate depression and inhibition of digestive enzymes. Tannins also have an effect on humans: They are, for example, the cause of byssinosis, a condition that is due to exposure to airborne tannin. Their biological effect is related to the great efficiency by which tannins precipitate proteins, an interaction that occurs by hydrophobic forces and hydrogen bonding. Two groups of salivary proteins, proline-rich proteins and histatins, are highly effective precipitators of tannin, and there is evidence that at least proline-rich proteins act as a first line of defense against tannins, perhaps by precipitating tannins in food and preventing their absorption from the alimentary canal. Proline plays an important role in the interaction of proline-rich proteins with tannins. In contrast, it is primarily basic residues that are responsible for the binding of histatins to tannin. The high concentration of tannin-binding proteins in human saliva may be related to the fruit and vegetable diet of human ancestors.

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