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1.  Passive and Active Vaccination Strategies to Prevent Ricin Poisoning 
Toxins  2011;3(9):1163-1184.
Ricin toxin (RT) is derived from castor beans, produced by the plant Ricinus communis. RT and its toxic A chain (RTA) have been used therapeutically to arm ligands that target disease-causing cells. In most cases these ligands are cell-binding monoclonal antibodies (MAbs). These ligand-toxin conjugates or immunotoxins (ITs) have shown success in clinical trials [1]. Ricin is also of concern in biodefense and has been classified by the CDC as a Class B biothreat. Virtually all reports of RT poisoning have been due to ingestion of castor beans, since they grow abundantly throughout the world and are readily available. RT is easily purified and stable, and is not difficult to weaponize. RT must be considered during any “white powder” incident and there have been documented cases of its use in espionage [2,3]. The clinical syndrome resulting from ricin intoxication is dependent upon the route of exposure. Countermeasures to prevent ricin poisoning are being developed and their use will depend upon whether military or civilian populations are at risk of exposure. In this review we will discuss ricin toxin, its cellular mode of action, the clinical syndromes that occur following exposure and the development of pre- and post-exposure approaches to prevent of intoxication.
PMCID: PMC3202875  PMID: 22069761
ricin; biothreat; vaccines; antibodies
2.  Antibody-Mediated Inhibition of Ricin Toxin Retrograde Transport 
mBio  2014;5(2):e00995-13.
Ricin is a member of the ubiquitous family of plant and bacterial AB toxins that gain entry into the cytosol of host cells through receptor-mediated endocytosis and retrograde traffic through the trans-Golgi network (TGN) and endoplasmic reticulum (ER). While a few ricin toxin-specific neutralizing monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) have been identified, the mechanisms by which these antibodies prevent toxin-induced cell death are largely unknown. Using immunofluorescence confocal microscopy and a TGN-specific sulfation assay, we demonstrate that 24B11, a MAb against ricin’s binding subunit (RTB), associates with ricin in solution or when prebound to cell surfaces and then markedly enhances toxin uptake into host cells. Following endocytosis, however, toxin-antibody complexes failed to reach the TGN; instead, they were shunted to Rab7-positive late endosomes and LAMP-1-positive lysosomes. Monovalent 24B11 Fab fragments also interfered with toxin retrograde transport, indicating that neither cross-linking of membrane glycoproteins/glycolipids nor the recently identified intracellular Fc receptor is required to derail ricin en route to the TGN. Identification of the mechanism(s) by which antibodies like 24B11 neutralize ricin will advance our fundamental understanding of protein trafficking in mammalian cells and may lead to the discovery of new classes of toxin inhibitors and therapeutics for biodefense and emerging infectious diseases.
Ricin is the prototypic member of the AB family of medically important plant and bacterial toxins that includes cholera and Shiga toxins. Ricin is also a category B biothreat agent. Despite ongoing efforts to develop vaccines and antibody-based therapeutics against ricin, very little is known about the mechanisms by which antibodies neutralize this toxin. In general, it is thought that antibodies simply prevent toxins from attaching to cell surface receptors or promote their clearance through Fc receptor (FcR)-mediated uptake. In this report, however, we describe a neutralizing monoclonal antibody (MAb) against ricin’s binding subunit (RTB) that not only associates with ricin after the toxin has bound to the cell’s surface but actually enhances toxin uptake into host cells. Following endocytosis, the antibody-toxin complexes are then routed for degradation. The results of this study are important because they reveal a previously unappreciated role for B-subunit-specific antibodies in intracellular neutralization of ricin toxin.
PMCID: PMC3993858  PMID: 24713323
3.  Ricinus communis Intoxications in Human and Veterinary Medicine-A Summary of Real Cases 
Toxins  2011;3(10):1332-1372.
Accidental and intended Ricinus communis intoxications in humans and animals have been known for centuries but the causative agent remained elusive until 1888 when Stillmark attributed the toxicity to the lectin ricin. Ricinus communis is grown worldwide on an industrial scale for the production of castor oil. As by-product in castor oil production ricin is mass produced above 1 million tons per year. On the basis of its availability, toxicity, ease of preparation and the current lack of medical countermeasures, ricin has gained attention as potential biological warfare agent. The seeds also contain the less toxic, but highly homologous Ricinus communis agglutinin and the alkaloid ricinine, and especially the latter can be used to track intoxications. After oil extraction and detoxification, the defatted press cake is used as organic fertilizer and as low-value feed. In this context there have been sporadic reports from different countries describing animal intoxications after uptake of obviously insufficiently detoxified fertilizer. Observations in Germany over several years, however, have led us to speculate that the detoxification process is not always performed thoroughly and controlled, calling for international regulations which clearly state a ricin threshold in fertilizer. In this review we summarize knowledge on intended and unintended poisoning with ricin or castor seeds both in humans and animals, with a particular emphasis on intoxications due to improperly detoxified castor bean meal and forensic analysis.
PMCID: PMC3210461  PMID: 22069699
ricin; poisoning; animal intoxication; human intoxication; fertilizer
4.  Conformation-Dependent High-Affinity Potent Ricin-Neutralizing Monoclonal Antibodies 
BioMed Research International  2012;2013:471346.
Ricin is a potential biothreat agent with no approved antidote available for ricin poisoning. The aim of this study was to develop potent antibody-based antiricin antidotes. Four strong ricin resistant hybridoma clones secreting antiricin monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) were developed. All four mAbs are bound to conformational epitopes of ricin toxin B (RTB) with high affinity (KD values from 2.55 to 36.27 nM). RTB not only triggers cellular uptake of ricin, but also facilitates transport of the ricin toxin A (RTA) from the endoplasmic reticulum to the cytosol, where RTA exerts its toxic activity. The four mAbs were found to have potent ricin-neutralizing capacities and synergistic effects among them as determined by an in vitro neutralization assay. In vivo protection assay demonstrated that all four mAbs had strong efficacy against ricin challenges. D9 was found to be exceptionally effective. Intraperitoneal (i.p.) administration of D9, at a dose of 5 μg, 6 weeks before or 6 hours after an i.p. challenge with 5 × LD50 of ricin was able to protect or rescue 100% of the mice, indicating that mAb D9 is an excellent candidate to be developed as a potent antidote against ricin poisoning for both prophylactic and therapeutic purposes.
PMCID: PMC3591125  PMID: 23484120
5.  Ricin Toxicokinetics and Its Sensitive Detection in Mouse Sera or Feces Using Immuno-PCR 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(9):e12858.
Ricin (also called RCA-II or RCA60), one of the most potent toxins and documented bioweapons, is derived from castor beans of Ricinus communis. Several in vitro methods have been designed for ricin detection in complex food matrices in the event of intentional contamination. Recently, a novel Immuno-PCR (IPCR) assay was developed with a limit of detection of 10 fg/ml in a buffer matrix and about 10-1000-fold greater sensitivity than other methods in various food matrices.
Methods and Findings
In order to devise a better diagnostic test for ricin, the IPCR assay was adapted for the detection of ricin in biological samples collected from mice after intoxication. The limit of detection in both mouse sera and feces was as low as 1 pg/ml. Using the mouse intravenous (iv) model for ricin intoxication, a biphasic half-life of ricin, with a rapid t1/2α of 4 min and a slower t1/2β of 86 min were observed. The molecular biodistribution time for ricin following oral ingestion was estimated using an antibody neutralization assay. Ricin was detected in the blood stream starting at approximately 6–7 h post- oral intoxication. Whole animal histopathological analysis was performed on mice treated orally or systemically with ricin. Severe lesions were observed in the pancreas, spleen and intestinal mesenteric lymph nodes, but no severe pathology in other major organs was observed.
The determination of in vivo toxicokinetics and pathological effects of ricin following systemic and oral intoxication provide a better understanding of the etiology of intoxication and will help in the future design of more effective diagnostic and therapeutic methods.
PMCID: PMC2943921  PMID: 20877567
6.  Ricin Crosses Polarized Human Intestinal Cells and Intestines of Ricin-Gavaged Mice without Evident Damage and Then Disseminates to Mouse Kidneys 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e69706.
Ricin is a potent toxin found in the beans of Ricinus communis and is often lethal for animals and humans when aerosolized or injected and causes significant morbidity and occasional death when ingested. Ricin has been proposed as a bioweapon because of its lethal properties, environmental stability, and accessibility. In oral intoxication, the process by which the toxin transits across intestinal mucosa is not completely understood. To address this question, we assessed the impact of ricin on the gastrointestinal tract and organs of mice after dissemination of toxin from the gut. We first showed that ricin adhered in a specific pattern to human small bowel intestinal sections, the site within the mouse gut in which a variable degree of damage has been reported by others. We then monitored the movement of ricin across polarized human HCT-8 intestinal monolayers grown in transwell inserts and in HCT-8 cell organoids. We observed that, in both systems, ricin trafficked through the cells without apparent damage until 24 hours post intoxication. We delivered a lethal dose of purified fluorescently-labeled ricin to mice by oral gavage and followed transit of the toxin from the gastrointestinal tracts to the internal organs by in vivo imaging of whole animals over time and ex vivo imaging of organs at various time points. In addition, we harvested organs from unlabeled ricin-gavaged mice and assessed them for the presence of ricin and for histological damage. Finally, we compared serum chemistry values from buffer-treated versus ricin-intoxicated animals. We conclude that ricin transverses human intestinal cells and mouse intestinal cells in situ prior to any indication of enterocyte damage and that ricin rapidly reaches the kidneys of intoxicated mice. We also propose that mice intoxicated orally with ricin likely die from distributive shock.
PMCID: PMC3714305  PMID: 23874986
7.  Real-Time Cytotoxicity Assay for Rapid and Sensitive Detection of Ricin from Complex Matrices 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e35360.
In the context of a potential bioterrorist attack sensitive and fast detection of functionally active toxins such as ricin from complex matrices is necessary to be able to start timely countermeasures. One of the functional detection methods currently available for ricin is the endpoint cytotoxicity assay, which suffers from a number of technical deficits.
This work describes a novel online cytotoxicity assay for the detection of active ricin and Ricinus communis agglutinin, that is based on a real-time cell electronic sensing system and impedance measurement. Characteristic growth parameters of Vero cells were monitored online and used as standardized viability control. Upon incubation with toxin the cell status and the cytotoxic effect were visualized using a characteristic cell index–time profile. For ricin, tested in concentrations of 0.06 ng/mL or above, a concentration-dependent decrease of cell index correlating with cytotoxicity was recorded between 3.5 h and 60 h. For ricin, sensitive detection was determined after 24 h, with an IC50 of 0.4 ng/mL (for agglutinin, an IC50 of 30 ng/mL was observed). Using functionally blocking antibodies, the specificity for ricin and agglutinin was shown. For detection from complex matrices, ricin was spiked into several food matrices, and an IC50 ranging from 5.6 to 200 ng/mL was observed. Additionally, the assay proved to be useful in detecting active ricin in environmental sample materials, as shown for organic fertilizer containing R. communis material.
The cell-electrode impedance measurement provides a sensitive online detection method for biologically active cytotoxins such as ricin. As the cell status is monitored online, the assay can be standardized more efficiently than previous approaches based on endpoint measurement. More importantly, the real-time cytotoxicity assay provides a fast and easy tool to detect active ricin in complex sample matrices.
PMCID: PMC3330811  PMID: 22532852
8.  A Monoclonal Immunoglobulin G Antibody Directed against an Immunodominant Linear Epitope on the Ricin A Chain Confers Systemic and Mucosal Immunity to Ricin ▿  
Infection and Immunity  2009;78(1):552-561.
Due to the potential use of ricin and other fast-acting toxins as agents of bioterrorism, there is an urgent need for the development of safe and effective antitoxin vaccines. A candidate ricin subunit vaccine (RiVax) consisting of a recombinant attenuated enzymatic A chain (RTA) has been shown to elicit protective antitoxin antibodies in mice and rabbits and is currently being tested in phase I human clinical trials. However, evaluation of the efficacy of this vaccine for humans is difficult for a number of reasons, including the fact that the key neutralizing B-cell epitopes on RTA have not been fully defined. Castelletti and colleagues (Clin. Exp. Immunol. 136:365-372, 2004) recently identified a linear epitope on RTA, spanning residues L161 to I175, as a primary target of serum antibodies derived from humans who had been treated with ricin immunotoxin. While affinity-purified polyclonal IgG antibodies against this region of RTA were capable of neutralizing ricin in vitro, their capacity to confer protection against ricin challenge in vivo was not determined. In this report, we describe the production and characterization of GD12, a murine monoclonal IgG1 antibody specifically directed against residues 163 to 174 (TLARSFIICIQM) of RTA. GD12 bound ricin holotoxin with high affinity (KD [dissociation constant], 2.9 × 10−9 M) and neutralized it with a 50% inhibitory concentration of ∼0.25 μg/ml, as determined by a Vero cell-based cytotoxicity assay. Passive administration of GD12 was sufficient to protect BALB/c mice against intraperitoneal and intragastric ricin challenges. These data are important in terms of vaccine development, since they firmly establish that preexisting serum antibodies directed against residues 161 to 175 on RTA are sufficient to confer both systemic and mucosal immunity to ricin. The potential of GD12 to serve as a therapeutic following ricin challenge was not explored in this study.
PMCID: PMC2798177  PMID: 19858297
9.  Single domain antibodies for the detection of ricin using silicon photonic microring resonator arrays 
Analytical chemistry  2012;85(2):805-810.
Ricin is a lethal protein toxin derived from the castor bean plant. Given its notorious history as a biowarfare agent and homicidal weapon, ricin has been classified as a category B bioterrorism agent. Current ricin detection methods based on immunoassays lack the required sensitivity and specificity for many homeland security surveillance applications. Importantly, many conventional antibody-based methodologies are unable to distinguish ricin from RCA 120, a non-toxic protein also found in the castor bean plant. Single domain antibodies (sdAbs), which are recombinantly derived from immunized llamas, are known to have high affinities for ricin A or B chains, and low cross-reactivity with RCA 120. Herein, we demonstrate the use of silicon photonic microring resonators for antibody affinity profiling and one-step ricin detection at concentrations down to 300 pM using a 15 minute, label-free assay format. These sdAbs were also simultaneously compared with a commercial anti-RCA IgG antibody in a multi-capture agent, single target immunoassay using arrays of microrings, which allowed direct comparison of sensitivity and specificity. Given the rapidity, scalability, and multiplexing capability of this silicon-based technology, this work represents a step toward using microring resonator arrays for the sensitive and specific detection of biowarfare agents.
PMCID: PMC3546499  PMID: 23268548
10.  Small-Molecule Inhibitor Leads of Ribosome-Inactivating Proteins Developed Using the Doorstop Approach 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(3):e17883.
Ribosome-inactivating proteins (RIPs) are toxic because they bind to 28S rRNA and depurinate a specific adenine residue from the α-sarcin/ricin loop (SRL), thereby inhibiting protein synthesis. Shiga-like toxins (Stx1 and Stx2), produced by Escherichia coli, are RIPs that cause outbreaks of foodborne diseases with significant morbidity and mortality. Ricin, produced by the castor bean plant, is another RIP lethal to mammals. Currently, no US Food and Drug Administration-approved vaccines nor therapeutics exist to protect against ricin, Shiga-like toxins, or other RIPs. Development of effective small-molecule RIP inhibitors as therapeutics is challenging because strong electrostatic interactions at the RIP•SRL interface make drug-like molecules ineffective in competing with the rRNA for binding to RIPs. Herein, we report small molecules that show up to 20% cell protection against ricin or Stx2 at a drug concentration of 300 nM. These molecules were discovered using the doorstop approach, a new approach to protein•polynucleotide inhibitors that identifies small molecules as doorstops to prevent an active-site residue of an RIP (e.g., Tyr80 of ricin or Tyr77 of Stx2) from adopting an active conformation thereby blocking the function of the protein rather than contenders in the competition for binding to the RIP. This work offers promising leads for developing RIP therapeutics. The results suggest that the doorstop approach might also be applicable in the development of other protein•polynucleotide inhibitors as antiviral agents such as inhibitors of the Z-DNA binding proteins in poxviruses. This work also calls for careful chemical and biological characterization of drug leads obtained from chemical screens to avoid the identification of irrelevant chemical structures and to avoid the interference caused by direct interactions between the chemicals being screened and the luciferase reporter used in screening assays.
PMCID: PMC3063779  PMID: 21455295
11.  Pathology of Lethal and Sublethal Doses of Aerosolized Ricin in Rhesus Macaques 
Toxicologic pathology  2013;42(3):573-581.
Ricin toxin, a type 2 ribosome inactivating protein and a category B bioterrorism agent, is produced from the seeds of castor oil plant (Ricinus communis). Chronic pathological changes in survivors of aerosolized ricin exposure have not been reported in primates. Here we compare and contrast the pathological changes manifested between rhesus macaques (RM) that succumbed to lethal dose of ricin (Group I) and survivor RM exposed to low dose of ricin (group II). All animals in group I exhibited severe diffuse, necrotizing bronchiolitis and alveolitis with fibrinopurulent bronchointerstitial pneumonia, massive alveolar, perivascular and peribronchial/bronchiolar edema with hemorrhage and necropurulent and hemorrhagic tracheobronchial lymphadenitis. All animals from groups II had multifocal, fibrosing interstitial pneumonia with prominent alveolar histiocytosis and type II pneumocyte hyperplasia. Subacute changes like infiltration by lymphocytes and plasma cells and persistence of edematous fluid were occasionally present in lung and tracheobronchial lymph nodes. The changes appear to be a continuum wherein the inflammatory response shifts from an acute to subacute/chronic reparative process if the animals can survive the initial insult.
PMCID: PMC3849233  PMID: 23761937
Ricin; Aerosolization; Rhesus Macaques; Nonhuman Primates; Pathology; Sublethal
12.  Neutralising Antibodies against Ricin Toxin 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(5):e20166.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have listed the potential bioweapon ricin as a Category B Agent. Ricin is a so-called A/B toxin produced by plants and is one of the deadliest molecules known. It is easy to prepare and no curative treatment is available. An immunotherapeutic approach could be of interest to attenuate or neutralise the effects of the toxin. We sought to characterise neutralising monoclonal antibodies against ricin and to develop an effective therapy. For this purpose, mouse monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) were produced against the two chains of ricin toxin (RTA and RTB). Seven mAbs were selected for their capacity to neutralise the cytotoxic effects of ricin in vitro. Three of these, two anti-RTB (RB34 and RB37) and one anti-RTA (RA36), when used in combination improved neutralising capacity in vitro with an IC50 of 31 ng/ml. Passive administration of association of these three mixed mAbs (4.7 µg) protected mice from intranasal challenges with ricin (5 LD50). Among those three antibodies, anti-RTB antibodies protected mice more efficiently than the anti-RTA antibody. The combination of the three antibodies protected mice up to 7.5 hours after ricin challenge. The strong in vivo neutralising capacity of this three mAbs combination makes it potentially useful for immunotherapeutic purposes in the case of ricin poisoning or possibly for prevention.
PMCID: PMC3102095  PMID: 21633505
13.  Isolation of a human-like antibody fragment (scFv) that neutralizes ricin biological activity 
BMC Biotechnology  2009;9:60.
Ricin is a lethal toxin that inhibits protein synthesis. It is easily extracted from a ubiquitously grown plant, Ricinus communis, and thus readily available for use as a bioweapon (BW). Anti-ricin antibodies provide the only known therapeutic against ricin intoxication.
In this study, after immunizing a non-human primate (Macaca fascicularis) with the ricin chain A (RTA), a phage-displayed immune library was built (2 × 108 clones), that included the λ light chain fragment. The library was screened against ricin, and specific binders were sequenced and further analyzed. The best clone, 43RCA, was isolated using a new, stringent neutralization test. 43RCA had a high, picomolar affinity (41 pM) and neutralized ricin efficiently (IC50 = 23 ± 3 ng/ml, corresponding to a [scFv]/[ricin] molar ratio of 4). The neutralization capacity of 43RCA compared favourably with that of polyclonal anti-deglycosylated A chain (anti-dgRCA) IgGs, obtained from hyperimmune mouse serum, which were more efficient than any monoclonal at our disposal. The 43RCA sequence is very similar to that for human IgG germline genes, with 162 of 180 identical amino acids for the VH and VL (90% sequence identity).
Results of the characterization studies, and the high degree of identity with human germline genes, altogether make this anti-ricin scFv, or an IgG derived from it, a likely candidate for use in humans to minimize effects caused by ricin intoxication.
PMCID: PMC2716335  PMID: 19563687
14.  Differential Neutralizing Activities of a Single Domain Camelid Antibody (VHH) Specific for Ricin Toxin’s Binding Subunit (RTB) 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e99788.
Ricin, a member of the A-B family of ribosome-inactivating proteins, is classified as a Select Toxin by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention because of its potential use as a biothreat agent. In an effort to engineer therapeutics for ricin, we recently produced a collection of alpaca-derived, heavy-chain only antibody VH domains (VHH or “nanobody”) specific for ricin’s enzymatic (RTA) and binding (RTB) subunits. We reported that one particular RTB-specific VHH, RTB-B7, when covalently linked via a peptide spacer to different RTA-specific VHHs, resulted in heterodimers like VHH D10/B7 that were capable of passively protecting mice against a lethal dose challenge with ricin. However, RTB-B7 itself, when mixed with ricin at a 1∶10 toxin:antibody ratio did not afford any protection in vivo, even though it had demonstrable toxin-neutralizing activity in vitro. To better define the specific attributes of antibodies associated with ricin neutralization in vitro and in vivo, we undertook a more thorough characterization of RTB-B7. We report that RTB-B7, even at 100-fold molar excess (toxin:antibody) was unable to alter the toxicity of ricin in a mouse model. On the other hand, in two well-established cytotoxicity assays, RTB-B7 neutralized ricin with a 50% inhibitory concentration (IC50) that was equivalent to that of 24B11, a well-characterized and potent RTB-specific murine monoclonal antibody. In fact, RTB-B7 and 24B11 were virtually identical when compared across a series of in vitro assays, including adherence to and neutralization of ricin after the toxin was pre-bound to cell surface receptors. RTB-B7 differed from both 24B11 and VHH D10/B7 in that it was relatively less effective at blocking ricin attachment to receptors on host cells and was not able to form high molecular weight toxin:antibody complexes in solution. Whether either of these activities is important in ricin toxin neutralizing activity in vivo remains to be determined.
PMCID: PMC4053406  PMID: 24918772
15.  Vaccine-Induced Intestinal Immunity to Ricin Toxin in the Absence of Secretory IgA 
Vaccine  2010;29(4):681-689.
The RNA N-glycosidase ribosome inactivating proteins (RIPs) constitute a ubiquitous family of plant- and bacterium-derived toxins that includes the category B select agents ricin, abrin and shiga toxin. While these toxins are potent inducers of intestinal epithelial cell death and inflammation, very little is known about the mechanisms underlying mucosal immunity to these toxins. In the present study, we report that secretory IgA (SIgA) antibodies are not required for intestinal immunity to ricin, as evidenced by the fact that mice devoid of SIgA, due to a mutation in the polymeric immunoglobulin receptor, were impervious to the effects of intragastric toxin challenge following ricin toxoid immunization. Furthermore, parenteral administration of ricin-specific monoclonal IgGs, directed against either ricin’s enzymatic subunit (RTA) or binding subunit (RTB), to wild type mice were as effective as monoclonal IgAs with comparable specificities in imparting intestinal immunity to ricin. These data are consistent with reports from others demonstrating that immunization of mice by routes known not to induce mucosal antibody responses (e.g., intramuscular and intradermal) are sufficient to elicit protection against both systemic and mucosal ricin challenge.
PMCID: PMC3034280  PMID: 21115050
biodefense; vaccine; mucosal; toxin; antibody
16.  Detection of Ricin Contamination in Ground Beef by Electrochemiluminescence Immunosorbent Assay 
Toxins  2011;3(4):398-408.
Ricin is a highly toxic protein present in the seeds of Ricinus communis (castor), grown principally as a source of high quality industrial lubricant and as an ornamental. Because ricin has been used for intentional poisoning in the past and could be used to contaminate food, there is a need for analytical methodology to detect ricin in food matrices. A monoclonal antibody-based method was developed for detecting and quantifying ricin in ground beef, a complex, fatty matrix. The limit of detection was 0.5 ng/g for the electrochemiluminescence (ECL) method and 1.5 ng/g for enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). The detection of nanogram per gram quantities of ricin spiked into retail samples of ground beef provides approximately 10,000-fold greater sensitivity than required to detect a toxic dose of ricin (>1 mg) in a 100 g sample.
PMCID: PMC3202826  PMID: 22069715
ricin; Ricinus communis agglutinin; castor; monoclonal antibody; biothreat; electrochemiluminescence
17.  Characterization of a Novel High-Affinity Monoclonal Immunoglobulin G Antibody against the Ricin B Subunit  
Infection and Immunity  2006;74(6):3463-3470.
There is an urgent need for the development of a passive immunotherapy against the category B select agent ricin, a lethal ribosome-inactivating toxin composed of an enzymatic A subunit (RTA) and a single binding B subunit (RTB). To date, only one monoclonal antibody (MAb), a mouse immunoglobulin G (IgG1) against RTA called R70, has been deemed sufficiently potent in animal models to warrant further testing in humans. In this study, we have identified and characterized MAb 24B11, a murine IgG1 directed against RTB. In a Vero cell cytotoxicity assay, 24B11 was approximately two times more effective at neutralizing ricin than was R70. The equilibrium dissociation constants of 24B11 (KD = 4.2 × 10−9 M) and R70 (KD = 3.2 × 10−9 M) were virtually identical, suggesting that the difference in neutralization activity between the two MAbs was not due to differing affinities for the toxin. 24B11 blocked ricin attachment to galactoside receptors on primary mouse splenocytes and on the apical surfaces of human mucosal epithelial cell monolayers. Surprisingly, R70 also effectively interfered with ricin attachment to receptors on cell surfaces. Using a phage-displayed peptide library, we determined that 24B11 binds an epitope on RTB adjacent to, but not within, one of the two galactose binding domains. Finally, we demonstrate that R70 and 24B11, when combined, function synergistically to neutralize ricin in vitro, raising the possibility that these two MAbs could serve as a novel immunotherapeutic in vivo.
PMCID: PMC1479246  PMID: 16714577
18.  Role of Phospholipase A2 in Retrograde Transport of Ricin  
Toxins  2011;3(9):1203-1219.
Ricin is a protein toxin classified as a bioterror agent, for which there are no known treatment options available after intoxication. It is composed of an enzymatically active A-chain connected by a disulfide bond to a cell binding B-chain. After internalization by endocytosis, ricin is transported retrogradely to the Golgi and ER, from where the ricin A-chain is translocated to the cytosol where it inhibits protein synthesis and thus induces cell death. We have identified cytoplasmic phospholipase A2 (PLA2) as an important factor in ricin retrograde transport. Inhibition of PLA2 protects against ricin challenge, however the toxin can still be endocytosed and transported to the Golgi. Interestingly, ricin transport from the Golgi to the ER is strongly impaired in response to PLA2 inhibition. Confocal microscopy analysis shows that ricin is still colocalized with the trans-Golgi marker TGN46 in the presence of PLA2 inhibitor, but less is colocalized with the cis-Golgi marker GM130. We propose that PLA2 inhibition results in impaired ricin transport through the Golgi stack, thus preventing it from reaching the ER. Consequently, ricin cannot be translocated to the cytosol to exert its toxic action.
PMCID: PMC3202871  PMID: 22069763
ricin; retrograde transport; phospholipase A2; Golgi; toxin
19.  Novel Class of Potential Therapeutics that Target Ricin Retrograde Translocation 
Toxins  2013;6(1):33-53.
Ricin toxin, an A-B toxin from Ricinus communis, induces cell death through the inhibition of protein synthesis. The toxin binds to the cell surface via its B chain (RTB) followed by its retrograde trafficking through intracellular compartments to the ER where the A chain (RTA) is transported across the membrane and into the cytosol. Ricin A chain is transported across the ER membrane utilizing cellular proteins involved in the disposal of aberrant ER proteins by a process referred to as retrograde translocation. Given the current lack of therapeutics against ricin intoxication, we developed a high-content screen using an enzymatically attenuated RTA chimera engineered with a carboxy-terminal enhanced green fluorescent protein (RTAE177Qegfp) to identify compounds that target RTA retrograde translocation. Stabilizing RTAE177Qegfp through the inclusion of proteasome inhibitor produced fluorescent peri-nuclear granules. Quantitative analysis of the fluorescent granules provided the basis to discover compounds from a small chemical library (2080 compounds) with known bioactive properties. Strikingly, the screen found compounds that stabilized RTA molecules within the cell and several compounds limited the ability of wild type RTA to suppress protein synthesis. Collectively, a robust high-content screen was developed to discover novel compounds that stabilize intracellular ricin and limit ricin intoxication.
PMCID: PMC3920248  PMID: 24366208
ricin toxin; small molecule inhibitors; high-content screen; retrograde translocation; stabilization; dislocation; egfp; ribosome-inactivating protein
20.  Analysis of castor bean ribosome-inactivating proteins and their gene expression during seed development 
Genetics and Molecular Biology  2013;36(1):74-86.
Ribosome-inactivating proteins (RIPs) are enzymes that inhibit protein synthesis after depurination of a specific adenine in rRNA. The RIP family members are classified as type I RIPs that contain an RNA-N-glycosidase domain and type II RIPs that contain a lectin domain (B chain) in addition to the glycosidase domain (A chain). In this work, we identified 30 new plant RIPs and characterized 18 Ricinus communis RIPs. Phylogenetic and functional divergence analyses indicated that the emergence of type I and II RIPs probably occurred before the monocot/eudicot split. We also report the expression profiles of 18 castor bean genes, including those for ricin and agglutinin, in five seed stages as assessed by quantitative PCR. Ricin and agglutinin were the most expressed RIPs in developing seeds although eight other RIPs were also expressed. All of the RIP genes were most highly expressed in the stages in which the endosperm was fully expanded. Although the reason for the large expansion of RIP genes in castor beans remains to be established, the differential expression patterns of the type I and type II members reinforce the existence of biological functions other than defense against predators and herbivory.
PMCID: PMC3615529  PMID: 23569411
agglutinin; evolution; lipase; Ricinus communis; ricin; RIPs
21.  Structure of RiVax: a recombinant ricin vaccine 
The X-ray crystal structure (at 2.1 Å resolution) of an immunogen under development as part of a ricin vaccine for humans is presented and structure-based analysis of the results was conducted with respect to related proteins and the known determinants for inducing or suppressing the protective immune response.
RiVax is a recombinant protein that is currently under clinical development as part of a human vaccine to protect against ricin poisoning. RiVax includes ricin A-chain (RTA) residues 1–267 with two intentional amino-acid substitutions, V76M and Y80A, aimed at reducing toxicity. Here, the crystal structure of RiVax was solved to 2.1 Å resolution and it was shown that it is superposable with that of the ricin toxin A-chain from Ricinus communis with a root-mean-square deviation of 0.6 Å over 258 Cα atoms. The RiVax structure is also compared with the recently determined structure of another potential ricin-vaccine immunogen, RTA 1–33/44–198 R48C/T77C. Finally, the locations and solvent-exposure of two toxin-neutralizing B-cell epitopes were examined and it was found that these epitopes are within or near regions predicted to be involved in catalysis. The results demonstrate the composition of the RiVax clinical material and will guide ongoing protein-engineering strategies to develop improved immunogens.
PMCID: PMC3169317  PMID: 21904036
ricin; ribosome-inactivating proteins; protein engineering; immunogens; RiVax; B-cell epitopes
22.  Identification of small molecule inhibitors of ricin and shiga toxin using a cell-based high-throughput screen 
The Category B agents, ricin and shiga toxin (Stx), are RNA N-glycosidases that target a highly conserved adenine residue within the sarcin-ricin loop of eukaryotic 28S ribosomal RNA. In an effort to identify small-molecule inhibitors of these toxins that could serve as lead compounds for potential therapeutics, we have developed a simple Vero cell-based high-throughput cytotoxicity assay and have used it to screen ∼81,300 compounds in 17 commercially available chemical libraries. This initial screen identified ∼300 compounds with weak (≥30-<50%), moderate (≥50-<80%), or strong (≥80%) ricin inhibitory activity. Secondary analysis of 244 of these original “hits” was performed, and 20 compounds that were capable of reducing ricin cytotoxicity by >50% were chosen for further study. Four compounds demonstrated significant dose-dependent ricin inhibitory activity in the Vero cell-based assay, with 50% effective inhibitory concentration (EC50) values ranging from 25 to 60 μM. The same 20 compounds were tested in parallel for the ability to inhibit ricin's and Stx1's enzymatic activities in an in vitro translation reaction. Three of the 20 compounds, including the most effective compound in the cell-based assay, had discernible anti-toxin activity. One compound in particular, 4-fluorophenyl methyl 2-(furan-2-yl)quinoline-4-carboxylate (“compound 8”), had 50% inhibitory concentration (IC50) of 30 μM, a value indicating > 10-fold higher potency than is the case for previously described ricin-Stx1 inhibitors. Computer modeling predicted that compound 8 is capable of docking within the ricin active site. In conclusion, we have used a simple high-throughput cell-based method to identify several new small-molecule inhibitors of ricin and Stx.
PMCID: PMC2902711  PMID: 20350563
biodefense; toxin; high-throughput screen; therapeutic
23.  RiVax, a recombinant ricin subunit vaccine, protects mice against ricin delivered by gavage or aerosol 
Vaccine  2007;25(42):7459-7469.
Ricin is a plant toxin that is a CDC level B biothreat. Our recombinant ricin A chain vaccine (RiVax), which contains mutations in both known toxic sites, has no residual toxicity at doses at least 800 times the immunogenic dose. RiVax without adjuvant given intramuscularly (i.m.) protected mice against intraperitoneally administered ricin. Furthermore the vaccine without alum was safe and immunogenic in human volunteers. Here we describe the development of gavage and aerosol ricin challenge models in mice and demonstrate that i.m. vaccination protects mice against ricin delivered by either route. Also RiVax protects against aerosol-induced lung damage as determined by histology and lung function tests.
PMCID: PMC2049008  PMID: 17875350
vaccine; ricin; bioterrorism; RiVax
24.  Intradermal administration of RiVax protects mice from mucosal and systemic ricin intoxication 
Vaccine  2010;28(32):5315-5322.
Ricin toxin is a CDC level B biothreat. We have developed a ricin vaccine, RiVax, which is a recombinant mutant of ricin A chain. RiVax is safe, immunogenic and protective in mice when administered intramuscularly (IM). We have now attempted to increase the utility and immunogenicity of RiVax by administering it intradermally (ID) with or without alum. Without alum, Rivax administered by the ID and IM routes was equally immunogenic and protective. With alum, ID vaccinations were more immunogenic and protective against both systemic and mucosal challenge with ricin and superior in protecting animals from ricin-induced lung damage.
PMCID: PMC2908217  PMID: 20562013
intradermal; vaccine; ricin
25.  Ricin Trafficking in Plant and Mammalian Cells 
Toxins  2011;3(7):787-801.
Ricin is a heterodimeric plant protein that is potently toxic to mammalian and many other eukaryotic cells. It is synthesized and stored in the endosperm cells of maturing Ricinus communis seeds (castor beans). The ricin family has two major members, both, lectins, collectively known as Ricinus communis agglutinin ll (ricin) and Ricinus communis agglutinin l (RCA). These proteins are stored in vacuoles within the endosperm cells of mature Ricinus seeds and they are rapidly broken down by hydrolysis during the early stages of post-germinative growth. Both ricin and RCA traffic within the plant cell from their site of synthesis to the storage vacuoles, and when they intoxicate mammalian cells they traffic from outside the cell to their site of action. In this review we will consider both of these trafficking routes.
PMCID: PMC3202855  PMID: 22069740
ricin biosynthesis; anterograde transport; retrograde transport; endoplasmic reticulum; retrotranslocation

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