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Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2011 Oct;43(10):1442-9. doi: 10.1016/j.biocel.2011.07.004. Epub 2011 Jul 20.

Plant lectins: targeting programmed cell death pathways as antitumor agents.

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School of Life Sciences & State Key Laboratory of Biotherapy and Cancer Center, West China Hospital, West China Medical School, Sichuan University, Chengdu 610041, China.


Lectins, a group of highly diverse, carbohydrate-binding proteins of non-immune origin that are ubiquitously distributed in plants, animals and fungi, are well-characterized to have numerous links a wide range of pathological processes, most notably cancer. In this review, we present a brief outline of the representative plant lectins including Ricin-B family, proteins with legume lectin domains and GNA family that can induce cancer cell death via targeting programmed cell death pathways. Amongst these above-mentioned lectins, we demonstrate that mistletoe lectins (MLs), Ricin, Concanavalin A (ConA) and Polygonatum cyrtonema lectin (PCL) can lead to cancer cell programmed death via targeting apoptotic pathways. In addition, we show that ConA and PCL can also result in cancer cell programmed death by targeting autophagic pathways. Moreover, we summarize the possible anti-cancer therapeutic implications of plant lectins such as ConA, Phaseolus vulgaris lectin (PHA) and MLs that have been utilized at different stages of preclinical and clinical trials. Together, these findings can provide a comprehensive perspective for further elucidating the roles of plant lectins that may target programmed cell death pathways in cancer pathogenesis and therapeutics. And, this research may, in turn, ultimately help cancer biologists and clinicians to exploit lectins as potential novel antitumor drugs in the future.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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