The B subunit (RTB) of ricin toxin is a galactose-/N-acetyl galactosamine-specific lectin that promotes attachment and entry of ricin into host cells. RTB is also the archetype of the so-called R-type lectin family, whose members include haemagglutinins of botulinum neurotoxin (BoNT) progenitor toxins, as well as the binding subunits of cytolethal distending toxins. Although RTB is an appealing subunit vaccine candidate, as well as a potential target for immunotherapeutics, the degree to which RTB immunization elicits protective antibodies against ricin toxin remains unresolved. To address this issue, groups of mice were immunized with RTB and then challenged with 5×LD(50)s of ricin administered intraperitoneally. Despite high RTB-specific serum antibody titers, groups of RTB immunized mice were only partially immune to ricin challenge. Analysis of a collection of RTB-specific B cell hybridomas suggested that only a small fraction of antibodies against RTB have demonstrable neutralizing activity. Two RTB-specific neutralizing monoclonal IgG(1) antibodies, 24B11 and SylH3, when passively administered to mice, were sufficient to protect the animals against a 5×LD(50) dose of ricin. Both 24B11 and SylH3 blocked ricin attachment to terminal galactose residues and prevented toxin binding to the surfaces of bone marrow-derived macrophages (BMM), suggesting that they function by steric hindrance and recognize epitopes located on RTB's carbohydrate recognition sub-domains (1α or 2γ). These data raise the possibility of using specific RTB sub-domains, rather than RTB itself, as antigens to more efficiently elicit neutralizing antibodies and protective immunity against ricin.
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