The plant toxin ricin is one of the most toxic substances known and can cause severe morbidity and mortality. It is a category B select agent. There are no specific protective measures or therapeutics effective against ricin intoxication and there is an urgent unmet need for therapy. Therefore, understanding how ricin kills cells and developing antidotes to protect exposed people remain top health priorities. Ricin inhibits protein synthesis by removing a specific adenine from the highly conserved ?-sarcin/ricin loop (SRL) in the large rRNA. The toxicity of ricin is thought to be due to irreversibe inactivation of ribosomes and subsequent translational arrest. Our work challenged this paradigm by demonstrating that ribosome depurination does not directly correlate with the cytotoxicity of RTA in yeast and in mammalian cells. We showed that RTA binds to the ribosomal stalk to depurinate ribosomes with an exceptionally high rate of association and dissociation, allowing it to depurinate the SRL at a much higher rate on intact ribosomes than on the naked 28S rRNA. Our preliminary results in human cells demonstrated that the human ribosomal stalk is also critical for the depurination activity of RTA. We present new preliminary evidence that the ribosome binding surface of RTA, which is distinct from the active site, is required for full toxicity. We showed that RTA inhibits the unfolded protein response (UPR) in yeast and in mammalian cells and inhibition of the UPR contributes to cytotoxicity of ricin. Our genome-wide screen in yeast identified novel host factors that mediate the toxicity of RTA. We obtained recent evidence that N-glycosylation is important for dislocation of RTA from the ER to the cytosol and identified a host factor critical for N- glycosylation. We will test the hypothesis that the high speed with which RTA binds the ribosome together with its interaction with the host factors that facilitate translocation contribute to the cytotoxicity of ricin. We will carry out structure function analysis to identify residues that are critical for ribosome binding and examine the depurination activity and cytotoxicity of these mutants. We will determine if depletion of stal proteins in human cells will affect depurination activity and cytotoxicity of RTA. We will screen a high density peptide array library to identify peptide inhibitors of the ribosome docking event. We will determine how genes identified from the genetic screen in yeast mediate RTA toxicity in mammalian cells to identify potential therapeutic targets. These discoveries will impact our understanding ricin toxicity and will be critical for development of countermeasures with post-exposure potential.

Public Health Relevance

Ricin intoxication causes serious and sometimes fatal effects. A critical gap exists in our knowledge of the mechanism of action of ricin, a potential weapon of bioterrorism. We propose to understand how ricin damages ribosomes and kills cells to develop antidotes. This research will provide a scientific basis for the development of remedies against ricin intoxication and will aid in the design of more effective therapeutic immunotoxins.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Xenobiotic and Nutrient Disposition and Action Study Section (XNDA)
Program Officer
Baqar, Shahida
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Rutgers University
Other Basic Sciences
Earth Sciences/Resources
New Brunswick
United States
Zip Code
Li, Xiao-Ping; Kahn, Jennifer N; Tumer, Nilgun E (2018) Peptide Mimics of the Ribosomal P Stalk Inhibit the Activity of Ricin A Chain by Preventing Ribosome Binding. Toxins (Basel) 10:
Zhou, Yijun; Li, Xiao-Ping; Kahn, Jennifer N et al. (2018) Functional Assays for Measuring the Catalytic Activity of Ribosome Inactivating Proteins. Toxins (Basel) 10:
Li, Xiao-Ping; Tumer, Nilgun E (2017) Differences in Ribosome Binding and Sarcin/Ricin Loop Depurination by Shiga and Ricin Holotoxins. Toxins (Basel) 9:
Zhou, Yijun; Li, Xiao-Ping; Chen, Brian Y et al. (2017) Ricin uses arginine 235 as an anchor residue to bind to P-proteins of the ribosomal stalk. Sci Rep 7:42912
Basu, Debaleena; Li, Xiao-Ping; Kahn, Jennifer N et al. (2016) The A1 Subunit of Shiga Toxin 2 Has Higher Affinity for Ribosomes and Higher Catalytic Activity than the A1 Subunit of Shiga Toxin 1. Infect Immun 84:149-61
Basu, Debaleena; Kahn, Jennifer N; Li, Xiao-Ping et al. (2016) Conserved Arginines at the P-Protein Stalk Binding Site and the Active Site Are Critical for Ribosome Interactions of Shiga Toxins but Do Not Contribute to Differences in the Affinity of the A1 Subunits for the Ribosome. Infect Immun 84:3290-3301
Jetzt, Amanda E; Li, Xiao-Ping; Tumer, Nilgun E et al. (2016) Toxicity of ricin A chain is reduced in mammalian cells by inhibiting its interaction with the ribosome. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol 310:120-128
Basu, Debaleena; Tumer, Nilgun E (2015) Do the A subunits contribute to the differences in the toxicity of Shiga toxin 1 and Shiga toxin 2? Toxins (Basel) 7:1467-85
Grela, Przemys?aw; Li, Xiao-Ping; Tch├│rzewski, Marek et al. (2014) Functional divergence between the two P1-P2 stalk dimers on the ribosome in their interaction with ricin A chain. Biochem J 460:59-67
Yan, Qing; Li, Xiao-Ping; Tumer, Nilgun E (2014) Wild type RTA and less toxic variants have distinct requirements for Png1 for their depurination activity and toxicity in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. PLoS One 9:e113719

Showing the most recent 10 out of 27 publications