The immunosuppressive activities of two abortifacient proteins isolated from the seeds of bitter melon (Momordica charantia).


Leung SO, Yeung HW, Leung KN






Two abortifacient proteins, alpha- and beta-momorcharin, have been purified from the seeds of the bitter melon (Momordica charantia). It was found that non-cytotoxic concentrations of these plant proteins can significantly inhibit the mitogenic responses of mouse splenocytes to concanavalin A, phytohaemagglutinin and lipopolysaccharide in a dose-dependent manner. In addition, the alloantigen-induced lymphoproliferation and the in vitro generation of a primary cytotoxic lymphocyte response were severely suppressed in the presence of these proteins. In contrast, the cytolytic activity of cytotoxic lymphocytes and natural killer cells was unimpaired by in vitro exposure to momorcharin. On the other hand, a clear decrease in the functional capacity of macrophages, such as the cytostatic and phagocytic activities, was observed under similar conditions. In vivo studies have shown that single injections of nontoxic microgram amounts of momorcharin into mice resulted in a significant depression of the delayed-type hypersensitivity response as well as the humoral antibody formation to sheep red blood cells. Similarly, the thioglycollate-induced in vivo migration of macrophages was also suppressed. Interestingly, the in vivo activation of natural killer cells was not appreciably affected. Our data suggests that the observed potent immunosuppressive effect of alpha- and beta-momorcharin is unlikely to be due to direct lymphocytotoxicity or due to a shift in the kinetic parameter of the immune response.