Bowman-Birk inhibitors and their variants (BBI) from legumes, such as soybean, pea, lentil and chickpea, are a class of naturally-occurring protease inhibitors which have potential health-promoting properties within the gastrointestinal tract. BBI can resist both acidic conditions and the action of proteolytic enzymes, and transit through the stomach and small intestine without major degradation, permitting significant amounts to reach the large intestine in active form to exert their reported anti-carcinogenic and anti-inflammatory properties. These potential pharmacological benefits have been linked recently to the intrinsic ability of BBI to inhibit serine proteases, and the data suggest that both trypsin- and chymotrypsin- like proteases involved in carcinogenesis should be considered as potential targets of BBI. However, the therapeutic targets and the action mechanisms of BBI remain unknown. Their elucidation will provide insights into the properties of these plant protease inhibitors as colorectal chemopreventive agents, providing a strong base for the development of legume crops and their products as pro-nutritional, health-promoting food. The deployment of modern genomic tools and genome sequence information are underpinning studies of natural and induced polymorphism in BBI. Genetic markers for BBI variants with improved properties can be exploited ultimately in legume breeding programmes to assist the introgression of such variant genes and the development of superior genotypes for human nutrition.
Keywords: Bowman-Birk inhibitors, chemoprevention, colorectal cancer, legumes, serine proteases, human nutrition, legume breeding, chymotrypsin-like proteases, trypsin-like proteases, dietary proteins, lectins, chemopreventive agents, FDA, amino acid sequence
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