A purified plant lectin, phytohemagglutinin (PHA), or crude red kidney bean (RKB) from which it was derived, when incorporated as 1% of dietary protein into a purified casein protein diet caused weanling rats to fail to grow or lose weight in comparison to control animals pair fed an isonitrogenous, isocaloric diet. Feeding PHA was observed to cause diarrhea: fecal wet and dry weights were increased within 2 days after starting the diet. Increased fecal weight was caused by increased dry weight as well as by an increased fecal water content. On reversion to a normal casein diet, rapid amelioration of the antinutritional effects of PHA occurred with resumption of normal growth rate. Specific binding of PHA to the microvillus region of the small intestinal epithelium was demonstrated using rabbit anti-PHA and fluorescein-labeled goat anti-rabbit immunoglobulin. PHA binding was observed after chronic intake in the diet or when applied to normal tissue in vitro. Loss of PHA binding to the intestine was observed to occur within 48 hr on reversion to a control casein diet. No significant morphological damage to the microvilli or the mucosal villus architecture was observed to accompany PHA adherence under these experimental conditions. Antinutritional and antiabsorptive effects of dietary PHA were associated with diarrhea. PHA adhered to the microvillus membrane of the small intestinal villus surface during the diarrheal state. After cessation of dietary PHA intake, weight gain and growth was accompanied by loss of PHA adherence to the small bowel mucosal surface. Adherence of PHA to the intestinal mucosal surface was an important cause of the nutritional and malabsorptive changes observed.
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