Effects of wheat germ agglutinin on human gastrointestinal epithelium: insights from an experimental model of immune/epithelial cell interaction.
Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2009 Jun 1;237(2):146-53. Epub 2009 Mar 28. PMID: 19332085
Department of Biotechnology, University of Verona, Strada Le Grazie 15-CV1, I-37134 Verona, Italy.
Wheat germ agglutinin (WGA) is a plant protein that binds specifically to sugars expressed, among many others, by human gastrointestinal epithelial and immune cells. WGA is a toxic compound and an anti-nutritional factor, but recent works have shown that it may have potential as an anti-tumor drug and as a carrier for oral drugs. To quantitate the toxicity threshold for WGA on normal epithelial cells we previously investigated the effects of the lectin on differentiated Caco2 cells, and showed that in the micromolar range of concentrations WGA could alter the integrity of the epithelium layer and increase its permeability to both mannitol and dextran. WGA was shown to be uptaken by Caco2 cells and only approximately 0.1% molecules were observed to cross the epithelium layer by transcytosis. Here we show that at nanomolar concentrations WGA is unexpectedly bioactive on immune cells. The supernatants of WGA-stimulated peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) can alter the integrity of the epithelium layer when administered to the basolateral side of differentiated Caco2 cells and the effects can be partially inhibited by monoclonal antibodies against IL1, IL6 and IL8. At nanomolar concentrations WGA stimulates the synthesis of pro-inflammatory cytokines and thus the biological activity of WGA should be reconsidered by taking into account the effects of WGA on the immune system at the gastrointestinal interface. These results shed new light onto the molecular mechanisms underlying the onset of gastrointestinal disorders observed in vivo upon dietary intake of wheat-based foods.