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Review
, 22 (3), 137-42

Abrin Poisoning

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Review

Abrin Poisoning

Kirsten J Dickers et al. Toxicol Rev.

Abstract

Abrin is a toxic protein obtained from the seeds of Abrus precatorius (jequirity bean), which is similar in structure and properties to ricin. Abrin is highly toxic, with an estimated human fatal dose of 0.1-1 microgram/kg, and has caused death after accidental and intentional poisoning. Abrin can be extracted from jequirity beans using a relatively simple and cheap procedure. This satisfies one criterion of a potential chemical warfare agent, although the lack of large scale production of jequirity seeds means that quantity is unavailable for ready mass production of abrin for weapons. This contrasts with the huge cultivation of Ricinus seeds for castor oil production. At the cellular level, abrin inhibits protein synthesis, thereby causing cell death. Many of the features observed in abrin poisoning can be explained by abrin-induced endothelial cell damage, which causes an increase in capillary permeability with consequent fluid and protein leakage and tissue oedema (the so-called vascular leak syndrome). Most reported cases of human poisoning involve the ingestion of jequirity beans, which predominantly cause gastrointestinal toxicity. Management is symptomatic and supportive. Experimental studies have shown that vaccination with abrin toxoid may offer some protection against a subsequent abrin challenge, although such an approach is unlikely to be of benefit in a civilian population that in all probability would be unprotected.

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