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, ptomain
any of a group of amines, such as cadaverine or putrescine, formed by decaying organic matter
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



any of various nitrogenous chemical compounds formed during the putrefactive decomposition of proteins, processes aided by microorganisms, in such substances as meat, fish, and yeast. Prime examples of ptomaines are biogenic amines, including putrescine and cadaverine, and methylguanidine, agmatine (aminobutyl guanidine), and neurine (trimethylvinyl-ammonium hydroxide). Histamine, tyramine, and tryptamine, which are obtained upon enzymatic decarboxylation of the corresponding amino acids, are also examples of ptomaines.

The idea that ptomaines are responsible for ptomaine poisoning is erroneous, since most ptomaines exhibit a low degree of toxicity. The sole exception to this is neurine, whose effect on the human body resembles that of muscarine—the poison of the mushroom fly agaric (Amanita muscaria). The toxicity of the products of protein decay derives from the presence of strong bacterial toxins. Nearly all ptomaines are normal products of human and animal metabolism; some ptomaines exist in the free state in fungi, brewers’ yeast, higher plants, and food products (cheese). Since the amines that constitute ptomaines have various chemical natures, biological functions, and physiological effects, the term “ptomaine” has become archaic and is rarely used.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Dans En rade (1887), est racontee la fascination du protagoniste Jacques Marles devant la decouverte du professeur italien Selmi, decouverte, "dans la putrefaction des cadavres, [d'] un alcaloide, la ptomaine, qui se presente a l'etat d'huile incolore et repand une lente mais tenace odeur d'aubepine, de musc, de Criligat, de fleur d'oranger ou de rose" (182-83).
Si l'ecrivain dit la fascination de la ptomaine, c'est qu'il prepare deja ce qui va suivre: une litterature qui exprime la quete du divin, une litterature se voulant aussi distillation; car l'essence, en fin de compte, osons dire les choses proprement, est chez le Huysmans des annees 1890 l'autre nom de Dieu.
Christ's corpse becomes ambrosia imparting immortality; in En Rade, dead relatives are distilled into ptomaines and converted into dessert toppings, Catholic iconography signifies nothing but itself, and Madeline Usher, bursting across the threshold of difference, drags her twin brother down in a fatal embrace.