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Precatory Bean

Scientific Name(s): Abrus precatorius L.
Common Name(s): Bead vine, Black-eyed Susan, Buddhist rosary bead, Crab's eye, Jequirity seed, John Crow beads, Love bean, Lucky bean, Prayer beads, Precatory bean, Rosary pea, Weather plant

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Feb 11, 2019.

Clinical Overview

Use

The precatory bean has experienced some success as an analgesic in terminally ill patients.

Dosing

Precatory bean is a dangerous poison; one seed if thoroughly chewed has been claimed to be fatal to a child, however the tough, impermeable seed coat reduces its toxic potential.

Contraindications

No longer considered safe.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking. Avoid use.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Because of the irritant effects of abrin on the GI mucosa, ingestion of precatory beans causes severe stomach cramping accompanied by nausea, vomiting, severe diarrhea, cold sweat, and fast pulse. Coma, circulatory collapse, acute renal failure, and hepatotoxicity also have been reported.

Toxicology

Precatory bean is highly toxic. Onset of toxicity usually occurs in 1 to 3 days. It is most commonly ingested accidentally by children.

Scientific Family

  • Fabaceae (pea)
  • Leguminosae (bean)

Botany

A. precatorius is native to southeast Asia and is now found in other tropical and subtropical regions. It is commonly found in Florida and Hawaii where it grows as a slender vine generally supported by other plants or a fence. The plant has clusters of pink flowers, and its compound leaves are sensitive to light, drooping at night and on cloudy days. The fruit splits open as it dries to reveal 3 to 5 hard-coated, brilliant scarlet (or rarely white) seeds with a small black spot at the point of attachment. This spot helps identify the seeds, which are sometimes confused with Rhynchosia, in which the black and red colors are reversed. Seeds of A. precatorius may also be confused with those of Ormosia, also a toxic member of the Fabaceae.Chevallier 2001, Garaniya 2014, Quattrocchi 2012, USDA 2016 A synonym is Abrus abrus L.

History

The precatory bean has found widespread use as an art object and ornament. The colorful, hard beans have been used as pendants, rosaries, rattles, necklaces, and in toys such as noise shakers.Fernando 2001

All parts of the plant have been used in traditional medicine. Dilute infusions have been used in South American and African folk medicine for the treatment of ophthalmic inflammations such as conjunctivitis. Precatory beans have been used medicinally to hasten labor, stimulate abortion, and also have found some use as an oral contraceptive in traditional medicine. The seeds also have been used to treat fever in Chinese medicine. The leaves and roots of the plant have been used in Ayurvedic medicine for treatment of asthma, bronchitis, and other respiratory conditions.Chevallier 2001, Evans 1989, Garaniya 2014

Because of the great potential for toxicity, the use of this plant is not recommended.

Chemistry

Several indole alkaloids (eg, abrin, hyaphorine, precatorine), triterpenoids, and glycosides have been isolated from the plant.Evans 1989, Garaniya 2014, Kim 2002, Yadava 2002

The protein abrin has been isolated from the seed and is responsible for its toxic effects. It is one of the most deadliest poisons in the world, almost twice as potent as the structurally similar ricin (Ricinus communis).Alhamdani 2015, Jang 2010 It has been described as a single glycoprotein of molecular weight 60,000 to 65,000.Olsnes 1974 Two proteins of differing amino acid composition have been purified from precatory beans, designated abrin A and C. Abrin C exhibits more potent hemagglutination activity than abrin A.Wei 1974 Both abrin A and C may be subdivided into smaller units of molecular weight of about 30,000. Abrin is a type 2 ribosome inactivating protein. The toxin is composed of 2 chains (A and B) with distinct functions. The B chain (the haptomere) binds to galactose units of cell surface carbohydrates.Sandvig 1976

Another lectin, abrus agglutinin, which is nontoxic to animal cells and exhibits potent agglutinating activity toward erythrocytes, has been described.Suryakala 2000 Abrus seeds also contain a potent proteinase inhibitor.Joubert 1983

Uses and Pharmacology

Animal data

Limited studies have been conducted in animals. Abrin has been used as a molecular probe to investigate cellular function. It has also been evaluated in the treatment of experimental cancers. Although effective when given intraperitoneally to mice pretreated with L1210 leukemia, no increase in lifespan was noted when the compound was administered IV.Fodstad 1978 In another study in mice, intraperitoneal abrin over 10 days was effective in reducing solid tumor mass.Ramnath 2002 Antidiabetic effects of a methanol leaf extract have been described in rodents.Umamahesh 2016 Ethanolic extracts of the leaves of Abrus possess d-tubocurarine-like neuromuscular blocking activity.Wambebe 1984

Clinical data

Research revels no clinical data as toxicity of the plant has precluded clinical studies. Detoxification of the plant has been studied, potentially facilitating clinical study in the future.Dhoble 2014

Dosing

Clinical studies are lacking for any therapeutic application. Precatory bean is a dangerous poison; one seed if thoroughly chewed has been claimed to be fatal to a child, however the tough, impermeable seed coat reduces its toxic potential.

Pregnancy / Lactation

Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking. Avoid use.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Because of the irritant effects of abrin on the GI mucosa, ingestion of precatory beans causes severe stomach cramping accompanied by nausea, vomiting, severe diarrhea, cold sweat, and fast pulse.Fernando 2001, Joubert 1983 Necklaces made of the pierced seeds have been reported to induce dermatitis.Duke 2003

Toxicology

The seeds, roots, and leaves of A. precatorius are all poisonous. The A chain (effectomere) of the constituent abrin is reportedly responsible for the toxic activity. Once inside the cell, the A chain migrates to the 60S unit of the ribosome, acting to inhibit further protein synthesis. Abrin has a strong inhibitory effect on protein synthesis, moderate inhibitory effect on DNA synthesis, and little effect on RNA synthesis.Wei 1974

The LD50 of abrin given intraperitoneally to mice is 0.04 mcg;Wei 1974 5 mg of the alkaloid abrin is reported to be toxic to humans.Duke 2003 In goats, ground seeds administered at a dose of 1 and 2 g/kg/day caused death in 2 to 5 days.Barri 1990 The estimated fatal human dose is 0.1 to 1 mcg/kg, almost half that of ricin.Alhamdani 2015 In children as little as half of one seed has been fatal.Chevallier 2001, Fernando 2001

Coma, circulatory collapse, acute renal failure, and hepatotoxicity have been reported.Fernando 2001, Joubert 1983 Neurologic symptoms have been reportedPatil 2016 as well as fatalities.Chevallier 2001, Fernando 2001, Jang 2010, Patil 2016 The toxin is released when the hard outer covering is pierced, thus allowing absorption into the intestinal secretions, by chewing or drilling holes in the seeds for beadwork, ornaments, or jewelry. Intact seeds remain impervious to gastric fluid and pose less of a toxicologic potential.Sullivan 1981

The onset of toxicity may be delayed up to 3 days; symptoms may persist for longer than 10 days.Alhamdani 2015

Treatment is supportive and symptomatic. Because of the necrotizing action of abrin, gastric lavage or induced emesis should be used cautiously.Fernando 2001, Patil 2016 Measures to maintain circulation include the correction of hypovolemia and electrolyte disturbances. Alkalinization of the urine to control uremia and enhance toxin excretion has been recommended.Alhamdani 2015, Fernando 2001, Hardin 1974, Jang 2010

A radioimmunoassay has been developed for abrin.Godal 1981

Index Terms

  • Abrus abrus L.

References

Abrus precatorius. USDA, NRCS. 2016. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, December 2016). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.
Alhamdani M, Brown B. Narula P. Abrin poisoning in an 18-month-old child. Am J Case Rep. 2015;16:146-148.25754813
Barri ME, el Dirdiri NI, Abu Damir H, Idris OF. Toxicity of Abrus precatorius in Nubian goats. Vet Hum Toxicol. 1990;32:541-545.2264260
Chevallier A. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. New York, NY: DK Publishing, 2001.
Dhoble SB, Majumdar AS. Detoxification of Abrus precatorius L. seeds by Ayurvedic Shodhana process and anti-inflammatory potential of the detoxified extract. Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine. 2014;5(3):154-161. doi:10.4103/0975-9476.140472.25336846
Duke JA. CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. 2nd ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2003.
Evans WC. Trease and Evans' Pharmacognosy. 13 ed. London, England: Bailliere Tindall; 1989.
Fernando C. Poisoning due to Abrus precatorius (jequirity bean). Anaesthesia. 2001;56:1178-1180.11736775
Fodstad O, Pihl A. Effect of ricin and abrin on survival of L1210 leukemic mice and on leukemic and normal bone-marrow cells. Int J Cancer. 1978;22:558-563.721316
Garaniya N, Bapodra A. Ethno botanical and phytophrmacological potential of Abrus precatorius L.: A review. Asian Pac J Trop Biomed. 2014;4(Suppl 1):S27-S34.25183095
Godal A, Olsnes S, Pihl A. Radioimmunoassays of abrin and ricin in blood. J Toxicol Environ Health. 1981;8:409-417.7345165
Hardin JW, Arena JM. Human Poisoning from Native and Cultivated Plants, 2nd ed. Durham, NC: Duke University Press; 1974.
Jang DH, Hoffman RS, Nelson LS. Attempted suicide, by mail order: Abrus precatorius. J Med Toxicol. 2010;6:427-430.20563676
Joubert FJ. J Biochem Int. 1983;15:1033.
Kim NC, Kim DS, Kinghorn AD. New triterpenoids from the leaves of Abrus precatorius. Nat Prod Lett. 2002;16:261-266.12168762
Lin JY, Chang YC, Huang LY, Tung TC. The cytotoxic effects of abrin and ricin on Ehrlich ascites tumor cells. Toxicon. 1973;11:379-381.4751114
Olsnes S, Refsnes K, Pihl A. Mechanism of action of the toxic lectins abrin and ricin. Nature. 1974;249:627-631.4857870
Patil MM, Patil SV, Akki AS, Lakhkar B, Badiger S. An arrow poison (Abrus precatorius) causing fatal poisoning in a child. J Clin Diagn Res. 2016;10(3):SD03-SD04.27134959
Quattrocchi U. CRC World Dictionary of Medicinal and Poisonous Plants. Boca Raton: CRC Press; 2012.
Ramnath V, Kuttan G, Kuttan R. Antitumour effect of abrin on transplanted tumours in mice. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 2002;46:69-77.12024960
Sandvig K, Olsnes S, Pihl A. Kinetics of binding of the toxic lectins abrin and ricin to surface receptors of human cells. J Biol Chem. 1976;251:3977-3984.6468
Sullivan G, Chavez PI. Mexican good-luck charm potentially dangerous. Vet Hum Toxicol. 1981;23:259-260.7314414
Suryakala S, Maiti TK, Sujatha N, Sashidhar RB. Identification of a novel protein adjuvant isolated from Abrus precatorius. Food Agric Immunol. 2000;12:87-96.
Umamahesh B, Veeresham C. Antihyperglycemic and insulin secretagogue activities of Abrus precatorius leaf extract. Pharmacognosy Res. 2016;8(4):303-308.27695273
Wambebe C, Amosun SL. Some neuromuscular effects of the crude extracts of the leaves of Abrus precatorius. J Ethnopharmacol. 1984;11:49-58.6088895
Wei CH, Hartman FC, Pfuderer P, Yang WK. Purification and characterization of two major toxic proteins from seeds of Abrus precatorius. J Biol Chem. 1974;249:3061-3067.4830236
Yadava RN, Reddy VM. A new biologically active flavonol glycoside from the seeds of Abrus precatorius Linn. J Asian Nat Prod Res. 2002;4:103-107.12067154

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