Humans have antibodies against a plant virus: evidence from tobacco mosaic virus

PLoS One. 2013;8(4):e60621. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0060621. Epub 2013 Apr 3.


Tobacco mosaic virus (TMV), a widespread plant pathogen, is found in tobacco (including cigarettes and smokeless tobacco) as well as in many other plants. Plant viruses do not replicate or cause infection in humans or other mammals. This study was done to determine whether exposure to tobacco products induces an immune response to TMV in humans. Using a sandwich ELISA assay, we detected serum anti-TMV antibodies (IgG, IgG1, IgG3, IgG4, IgA, and IgM) in all subjects enrolled in the study (20 healthy smokers, 20 smokeless-tobacco users, and 20 non-smokers). Smokers had a higher level of serum anti-TMV IgG antibodies than non-smokers, while the serum level of anti-TMV IgA from smokeless tobacco users was lower than smokers and non-smokers. Using bioinformatics, we also found that the human protein TOMM40L (an outer mitochondrial membrane 40 homolog--like translocase) contains a strong homology of six contiguous amino acids to the TMV coat protein, and TOMM40L peptide exhibited cross-reactivity with anti-TMV antibodies. People who smoke cigarettes or other tobacco products experience a lower risk of developing Parkinson's disease, but the mechanism by which this occurs is unclear. Our results showing molecular mimicry between TMV and human TOMM40L raise the question as to whether TMV has a potential role in smokers against Parkinson's disease development. The potential mechanisms of molecular mimicry between plant viruses and human disease should be further explored.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Antibodies, Viral / blood*
  • Autoantibodies / blood
  • Cross Reactions
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Membrane Transport Proteins / immunology
  • Middle Aged
  • Molecular Mimicry
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Plant Diseases / virology
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Smoking / immunology*
  • Tobacco / virology*
  • Tobacco Mosaic Virus / immunology*
  • Tobacco, Smokeless / virology
  • Young Adult


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Autoantibodies
  • Membrane Transport Proteins
  • TOMM40 protein, human