Antinutritional properties of plant lectins

Toxicon. 2004 Sep 15;44(4):385-403. doi: 10.1016/j.toxicon.2004.05.005.


Lectins are carbohydrate binding (glyco)proteins which are ubiquitous in nature. In plants, they are distributed in various families and hence ingested daily in appreciable amounts by both humans and animals. One of the most nutritionally important features of plant lectins is their ability to survive digestion by the gastrointestinal tract of consumers. This allows the lectins to bind to membrane glycosyl groups of the cells lining the digestive tract. As a result of this interaction a series of harmful local and systemic reactions are triggered placing this class of molecules as antinutritive and/or toxic substances. Locally, they can affect the turnover and loss of gut epithelial cells, damage the luminal membranes of the epithelium, interfere with nutrient digestion and absorption, stimulate shifts in the bacterial flora and modulate the immune state of the digestive tract. Systemically, they can disrupt lipid, carbohydrate and protein metabolism, promote enlargement and/or atrophy of key internal organs and tissues and alter the hormonal and immunological status. At high intakes, lectins can seriously threaten the growth and health of consuming animals. They are also detrimental to numerous insect pests of crop plants although less is presently known about their insecticidal mechanisms of action. This current review surveys the recent knowledge on the antinutritional/toxic effects of plant lectins on higher animals and insects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Absorption / drug effects
  • Animal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Animals
  • Bacteria / drug effects*
  • Digestion / drug effects*
  • Immunity / drug effects
  • Insecta / drug effects*
  • Insecticides / toxicity
  • Intestinal Mucosa / drug effects
  • Plant Lectins / metabolism
  • Plant Lectins / toxicity*


  • Insecticides
  • Plant Lectins