As part of the SAFOTEST project the immunmodulating effect of Cry1Ab protein from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and PHA-E lectin from kidney bean (Phaseolus vulgaris erythroagglutinin) was examined in 28- and 90-day feeding studies in Wistar rats. PHA-E lectin was chosen as positive control. Rats were fed control rice, transgenic rice expressing Cry I Ab protein or PHA-E lectin, or transgenic rice spiked with the purified recombinant protein. Total immunoglobulin levels, mitogen-induced cell proliferation, T-dependent antibody response to sheep red blood cells and the antigen-specific antibody response in serum were examined at the end of the studies. A dose-dependent increase in mesenteric lymph node weight and total immunoglobulin A was seen when feeding PHA-E transgenic rice alone or spiked with 0.1% purified PHA-E lectin for 90 days indicating a local effect of PHA-E in the intestine. No adverse effects of Cry1Ab protein were found. An anti-PHA-E and anti-Cry I Ab antibody response was induced both after inhalation (control groups) and after inhalation/ingestion (groups fed recombinant protein alone or together with transgenic rice). In conclusion, only PHA-E lectin was found to have an immunomodulating effect when feeding rats for 90 days with approximately 70 mg PHA-E/kg bodyweight per day. As both PHA-E lectin and Cry1Ab protein were capable of inducing an antigen-specific antibody response it is important to make careful considerations when designing future animal studies to avoid intake of proteins from the other groups by inhalation as well as to examine the sensitization and elicitation potential of 'foreign' proteins before introduction to the world market. (C) 2007 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.