Cell Biology

Of Mice and Ricin

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Science  21 May 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5981, pp. 955
DOI: 10.1126/science.328.5981.955-b

Certain bacterial and plant toxins gain access to their intracellular targets by taking advantage of existing intracellular transport machinery. The plant toxin ricin follows the retrograde transport route from the cell surface via endosomes and the Golgi complex to the endoplasmic reticulum en route to the cytosol, where it binds to and inactivates its target, ribosomal RNA. Ricin represents a potential bioterrorism weapon, for which there are no widely available treatments. Stechmann et al. screened for small-molecule inhibitors that could protect human lung cells from ricin and two similar bacterial toxins. Two of the identified compounds, termed Retro-1 and Retro-2, inhibited the transport step from endosomes to the Golgi. One of these compounds, Retro-2, was even able to protect mice from an otherwise lethal exposure to ricin.

Cell 141, 231 (2010).

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