Autophagic Degradation Is Involved in Cell Protection against Ricin Toxin

Yu Wu, Clémence Taisne, Nassim Mahtal, Alison Forrester, Marion Lussignol, Jean Christophe Cintrat, Audrey Esclatine, Daniel Gillet, Julien Barbier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Autophagy is a complex and highly regulated degradative process, which acts as a survival pathway in response to cellular stress, starvation and pathogen infection. Ricin toxin is a plant toxin produced by the castor bean and classified as a category B biothreat agent. Ricin toxin inhibits cellular protein synthesis by catalytically inactivating ribosomes, leading to cell death. Currently, there is no licensed treatment for patients exposed to ricin. Ricin-induced apoptosis has been extensively studied; however, whether its intoxication via protein synthesis inhibition affects autophagy is not yet resolved. In this work, we demonstrated that ricin intoxication is accompanied by its own autophagic degradation in mammalian cells. Autophagy deficiency, by knocking down ATG5, attenuates ricin degradation, thus aggravating ricin-induced cytotoxicity. Additionally, the autophagy inducer SMER28 (Small Molecule Enhancer of Rapamycin 28) partially protects cells against ricin cytotoxicity, an effect not observed in autophagy-deficient cells. These results demonstrate that autophagic degradation acts as a survival response of cells against ricin intoxication. This suggests that stimulation of autophagic degradation may be a strategy to counteract ricin intoxication.

Original languageEnglish
Article number304
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2023


  • ATG5
  • autophagy
  • degradation
  • ricin toxin
  • SMER28


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