The lectin has a number of effects on cell metabolism, it induces mitosis, effects the cell membrane with regards to transport and permeability to proteins. It agglutinates most mammmalian red blood cell types.
As a toxin it can cause poisoning in monogastric animals through the consumption of raw or improperly prepared kidney beans. Measured in haemagglutinating units (hau) a raw kidney bean can contain up to 70,000 hau, this can be reduced around 200-fold by correct cooking. The bean also contains α-amylase inhibitor.
Poisoning can be induced from a few as five raw beans and symptoms occur within three hours, beginning with nausea then vomiting which can be severe and sustained (profuse) then diarrhea. Recovery occurs within four or five hours of onset, usually without the need for any medical intervention.
Medically it is used as a mitogen to trigger synthesis in T-lymphocytes, and to activate latent HIV-1 from human peripheral lymphocytes.