This review gives an overview on the development of research on spider venoms with a focus on structure and function of venom components and techniques of analysis. Major venom component groups are small molecular mass compounds, antimicrobial (also called cytolytic, or cationic) peptides (only in some spider families), cysteine-rich (neurotoxic) peptides, and enzymes and proteins. Cysteine-rich peptides are reviewed with respect to various structural motifs, their targets (ion channels, membrane receptors), nomenclature, and molecular binding. We further describe the latest findings concerning the maturation of antimicrobial, and cysteine-rich peptides that are in most known cases expressed as propeptide-containing precursors. Today, venom research, increasingly employs transcriptomic and mass spectrometric techniques. Pros and cons of venom gland transcriptome analysis with Sanger, 454, and Illumina sequencing are discussed and an overview on so far published transcriptome studies is given. In this respect, we also discuss the only recently described cross contamination arising from multiplexing in Illumina sequencing and its possible impacts on venom studies. High throughput mass spectrometric analysis of venom proteomes (bottom-up, top-down) are reviewed.
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