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Mistletoe Extracts (PDQ®): Complementary and alternative medicine - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Laboratory / Animal / Preclinical Studies

The immune-system -stimulating and cytotoxic properties of mistletoe have been investigated in laboratory and animal studies.

Viscotoxins and lectins have been investigated as active components in mistletoe; however, most research has focused on the lectins.[1,2,3,4,5,6,7] Reviewed in [8,9] Purified mistletoe lectins have demonstrated cytotoxic and immune-system-stimulating activities. To date, four different lectins: ML-1, ML-2, ML-3, and Viscum albumchitin -binding agglutinin have been identified in mistletoe extracts. ML-1 (or viscumin) may be responsible for many of mistletoe's biological effects. When a laboratory method was used to selectively deplete ML-1 from Viscum album extracts, their cytotoxic and immune-system-stimulating properties were markedly reduced.[10,11] It should be noted that fermentation eliminates most of the ML-1 in mistletoe extracts.[12] Reviewed in [13,14] Polysaccharide and oligosaccharide components of mistletoe extracts with substantial immune-stimulating properties have been reviewed.[15,16]

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The molecular structure of ML-1 consists of an alpha chain and a beta chain, which can be separated from one another.[1,17,18] Reviewed in [1,6,7,8,9,13] Each chain type appears to mediate a subset of the activities described for the intact lectin. Cytotoxicity is associated mainly with the alpha chain. In laboratory studies, the ML-1 alpha chain has been coupled to monoclonal antibodies to produce immunotoxins that target and kill specific cell types.[19,20] Reviewed in [21]

Recombinant ML-1, rML (also known as rViscunim or aviscumin) appears to have the same efficacy as plant-based ML-1 in laboratory studies.[22] Since this is not an extract of mistletoe, it is out of the purview of this summary.

The beta chain of ML-1 is responsible for binding to the surface of a target cell.[23] Studies of mistletoe lectin binding to cancer cells have examined whether the extent of cell binding can predict disease outcome or survival. Studies show that the prognostic value of ML-1 binding depends on the type of cancer.[24] For human breast cancer cells, the amount of lectin-bound cells correlates positively with disease outcome. However, for human adenocarcinoma of the lung, there is no correlation between the amount of lectin-bound cells and disease survival.[25] Though much research has looked at this particular aspect, there have not been studies that directly link the concentration of that component to any clinical activity of mistletoe.

Laboratory studies have shown that mistletoe extracts can stimulate the activity of white blood cells in vitro and cause them to release molecules thought to be important for anticancer immune responses. [17,26,27,28,29,30,31,32] Reviewed in [4,6,8,9,33] In addition, mistletoe extracts have demonstrated cytotoxic activity against a variety of mouse, rat, and human cancer cells in vitro.[1,23,34,35,36,37] Reviewed in [8]

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WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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