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Immunology. 2001 Jan;102(1):77-86.

The identification of plant lectins with mucosal adjuvant activity.

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Institute for Immunology, Department of Biology, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, Co. Kildare, Ireland.


To date, the most potent mucosal vaccine adjuvants to be identified have been bacterial toxins. The present data demonstrate that the type 2 ribosome-inactivating protein (type 2 RIP), mistletoe lectin I (ML-I) is a strong mucosal adjuvant of plant origin. A number of plant lectins were investigated as intranasal (i.n.) coadjuvants for a bystander protein, ovalbumin (OVA). As a positive control, a potent mucosal adjuvant, cholera toxin (CT), was used. Co-administration of ML-I or CT with OVA stimulated high titres of OVA-specific serum immunoglobulin G (IgG) in addition to OVA-specific IgA in mucosal secretions. CT and ML-I were also strongly immunogenic, inducing high titres of specific serum IgG and specific IgA at mucosal sites. None of the other plant lectins investigated significantly boosted the response to co-administered OVA. Immunization with phytohaemagglutinin (PHA) plus OVA elicited a lectin-specific response but did not stimulate an enhanced response to OVA compared with the antigen alone. Intranasal delivery of tomato lectin (LEA) elicited a strong lectin-specific systemic and mucosal antibody response but only weakly potentiated the response to co-delivered OVA. In contrast, administration of wheatgerm agglutinin (WGA) or Ulex europaeus lectin 1 (UEA-I) with OVA stimulated a serum IgG response to OVA while the lectin-specific responses (particularly for WGA) were relatively low. Thus, there was not a direct correlation between immunogenicity and adjuvanticity although the strongest adjuvants (CT, ML-I) were also highly immunogenic.

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