This study elucidates some structural and biological features of galactose-binding variants of the cytotoxic proteins ricin and abrin. An isolation procedure is reported for ricin variants from Ricinus communis seeds by using lactamyl-Sepharose affinity matrix, similar to that reported previously for variants of abrin from Abrus precatorius seeds [Hegde, R., Maiti, T. K. & Podder, S. K. (1991) Anal. Biochem. 194, 101–109]. Ricin variants, subfractionated on carboxymethyl-Sepharose CL-6B ion-exchange chromatography, were characterized further by SDS/PAGE, IEF and a binding assay. Based on the immunological cross-reactivity of antibody raised against a single variant of each of ricin and abrin, it was established that all the variants of the corresponding type are immunologically indistinguishable. Analysis of protein titration curves on an immobilized pH gradient indicated that variants of abrin I differ from other abrin variants, mainly in their acidic groups and that variance in ricin is a cause of charge substitution. Detection of subunit variants of proteins by two-dimensional gel electrophoresis showed that there are twice as many subunit variants as there are variants of holoproteins, suggesting that each variant has a set of subunit variants, which, although homologous, are not identical to the subunits of any other variant with respect to pI. Seeds obtained from polymorphic species of R. communis showed no difference in the profile of toxin variants, as analyzed by isoelectric focussing. Toxin variants obtained from red and white varieties of A. precatorius, however, showed some difference in the number of variants as well as in their relative intensities. Furthermore, variants analyzed from several single seeds of A. precatorius red type revealed a controlled distribution of lectin variants in three specific groups, indicating an involvement of at least three genes in the production of Abrus lectins. The complete absence or presence of variants in each group suggested a post-translational differential proteolytic processing, a secondary event in the production of abrin variants.