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Hum Exp Toxicol. 1996 May;15(5):443-51.

Morphology of ricin and abrin exposed endothelial cells is consistent with apoptotic cell death.

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  • 1Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment (CBDE), Salisbury, Wiltshire, UK.


Cultures of bovine pulmonary endothelial (BPE) cells were exposed to LC70 doses of ricin or abrin (15.5 and 4.5 pM respectively) over a period of up to 40 h. The viability of the cultures (as determined by the neutral red (NR) dye retention assay) declined after 6 h exposure to the toxins. From 15 h onwards, cellular material in toxin exposed cultures became detached from the substratum of the culture vessels. Hoffman modulation contrast photomicrography showed that this process was due to ricin and abrin exposed cells collapsing into membrane bound vesicles which retained the NR dye, became detached and floated into the medium. These apoptotic-like structural changes were further investigated by transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and by agarose gel electrophoresis of DNA from control and exposed cultures. Many of the characteristic changes associated with apoptotic cell death were seen using TEM, including heterochromatin condensation at the nuclear periphery, crenulation of the nuclear membrane and progressive degeneration of residual nuclear and cytoplasmic structures. The plasma membrane of many cells remained intact, and contained nuclear and cytoplasmic debris. Agarose gel electrophoresis of DNA extracted from toxin-treated cells revealed oligonucleosome sized DNA fragments, characteristic of apoptosis, from adherent cells at 7 h and both adherent and floating populations when harvested from 15 h; DNA from unexposed control cells did not show this fragmentation. The identification of apoptosis as being a significant additional mechanism of toxicity following exposure to ricin and abrin holotoxins raises the possibility of developing new therapeutic strategies against poisoning by these phytotoxins.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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