Special Issue "Animal Venoms–Curse or Cure?"

A special issue of Biomedicines (ISSN 2227-9059). This special issue belongs to the section "Drug Discovery and Development".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 April 2020).

Special Issue Editor

Dr. Volker Herzig
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
School of Science and Engineering, University of the Sunshine Coast, Sippy Downs, Queensland, Australia
Interests: Animal venoms; toxins as bioinsecticides and antiparasitic agents; toxins as tools in basic and medical research

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

It is estimated that about 15% of all animals spread across the majority of lineages are venomous. Animals use venom for various purposes including prey capture, predator deterrence, sexual combat and the provision of food for their offspring. Humans have always been fascinated by venomous animals, albeit in a Janus-faced way. On the one hand, venomous animals have gained a fearsome reputation in the public media, which is further boosted by an annual global death toll in the hundreds of thousands (with many more cases of permanent disablement) with the leading cause being tropical snakes. For this reason, snake envenomation has recently been classified by the World Health Organization as a neglected tropical disease. On the other hand, a growing global scene of enthusiasts in industrialized countries is keeping venomous animals such as snakes, spiders, scorpions, and centipedes in captivity as pets. The (also venomous) honeybees are even used as production animals in agriculture for the pollination of a wide variety of crops, which ensures the survival of billions of people and has the added benefit of yielding delicious honey. Furthermore, recent scientific research focused on exploiting animal venoms for the benefit of humanity in form of novel therapeutics or biopesticides.

This Special Issue will illuminate both the deleterious beneficial side effects of animal venoms and we invite the submission of all research or review papers dealing with this topic.

Dr. Volker Herzig
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

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Keywords

  • venom
  • toxin
  • venoms to drugs/therapeutics
  • biopesticide
  • antivenom
  • toxicity
  • lethality
  • bioprospecting
  • envenomation

Published Papers (17 papers)

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Editorial

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Open AccessEditorial
Animal Venoms—Curse or Cure?
Biomedicines 2021, 9(4), 413; https://doi.org/10.3390/biomedicines9040413 - 12 Apr 2021
Viewed by 381
Abstract
An estimated 15% of animals are venomous, with representatives spread across the majority of animal lineages. Animals use venoms for various purposes, such as prey capture and predator deterrence. Humans have always been fascinated by venomous animals in a Janus-faced way. On the [...] Read more.
An estimated 15% of animals are venomous, with representatives spread across the majority of animal lineages. Animals use venoms for various purposes, such as prey capture and predator deterrence. Humans have always been fascinated by venomous animals in a Janus-faced way. On the one hand, humans have a deeply rooted fear of venomous animals. This is boosted by their largely negative image in public media and the fact that snakes alone cause an annual global death toll in the hundreds of thousands, with even more people being left disabled or disfigured. Consequently, snake envenomation has recently been reclassified by the World Health Organization as a neglected tropical disease. On the other hand, there has been a growth in recent decades in the global scene of enthusiasts keeping venomous snakes, spiders, scorpions, and centipedes in captivity as pets. Recent scientific research has focussed on utilising animal venoms and toxins for the benefit of humanity in the form of molecular research tools, novel diagnostics and therapeutics, biopesticides, or anti-parasitic treatments. Continued research into developing efficient and safe antivenoms and promising discoveries of beneficial effects of animal toxins is further tipping the scales in favour of the “cure” rather than the “curse” prospect of venoms. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Venoms–Curse or Cure?)
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Research

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Open AccessArticle
Kunitz-Type Peptides from the Sea Anemone Heteractis crispa Demonstrate Potassium Channel Blocking and Anti-Inflammatory Activities
Biomedicines 2020, 8(11), 473; https://doi.org/10.3390/biomedicines8110473 - 04 Nov 2020
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 735
Abstract
The Kunitz/BPTI peptide family includes unique representatives demonstrating various biological activities. Electrophysiological screening of peptides HCRG1 and HCRG2 from the sea anemone Heteractis crispa on six Kv1.x channel isoforms and insect Shaker IR channel expressed in Xenopus laevis oocytes revealed their potassium channels [...] Read more.
The Kunitz/BPTI peptide family includes unique representatives demonstrating various biological activities. Electrophysiological screening of peptides HCRG1 and HCRG2 from the sea anemone Heteractis crispa on six Kv1.x channel isoforms and insect Shaker IR channel expressed in Xenopus laevis oocytes revealed their potassium channels blocking activity. HCRG1 and HCRG2 appear to be the first Kunitz-type peptides from sea anemones blocking Kv1.3 with IC50 of 40.7 and 29.7 nM, respectively. In addition, peptides mainly vary in binding affinity to the Kv1.2 channels. It was established that the single substitution, Ser5Leu, in the TRPV1 channel antagonist, HCRG21, induces weak blocking activity of Kv1.1, Kv1.2, and Kv1.3. Apparently, for the affinity and selectivity of Kunitz-fold toxins to Kv1.x isoforms, the number and distribution along their molecules of charged, hydrophobic, and polar uncharged residues, as well as the nature of the channel residue at position 379 (Tyr, Val or His) are important. Testing the compounds in a model of acute local inflammation induced by the introduction of carrageenan administration into mice paws revealed that HCRG1 at doses of 0.1–1 mg/kg reduced the volume of developing edema during 24 h, similar to the effect of the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, indomethacin, at a dose of 5 mg/kg. ELISA analysis of the animals blood showed that the peptide reduced the synthesis of TNF-α, a pro-inflammatory mediator playing a leading role in the development of edema in this model. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Venoms–Curse or Cure?)
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Open AccessArticle
Phospholipase A2 (PLA2) as an Early Indicator of Envenomation in Australian Elapid Snakebites (ASP-27)
Biomedicines 2020, 8(11), 459; https://doi.org/10.3390/biomedicines8110459 - 29 Oct 2020
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 805
Abstract
Early diagnosis of snake envenomation is essential, especially neurotoxicity and myotoxicity. We investigated the diagnostic value of serum phospholipase (PLA2) in Australian snakebites. In total, 115 envenomated and 80 non-envenomated patients were recruited over 2 years, in which an early blood [...] Read more.
Early diagnosis of snake envenomation is essential, especially neurotoxicity and myotoxicity. We investigated the diagnostic value of serum phospholipase (PLA2) in Australian snakebites. In total, 115 envenomated and 80 non-envenomated patients were recruited over 2 years, in which an early blood sample was available pre-antivenom. Serum samples were analyzed for secretory PLA2 activity using a Cayman sPLA2 assay kit (#765001 Cayman Chemical Company, Ann Arbor MI, USA). Venom concentrations were measured for snake identification using venom-specific enzyme immunoassay. The most common snakes were Pseudonaja spp. (33), Notechis scutatus (24), Pseudechis porphyriacus (19) and Tropidechis carinatus (17). There was a significant difference in median PLA2 activity between non-envenomated (9 nmol/min/mL; IQR: 7–11) and envenomated patients (19 nmol/min/mL; IQR: 10–66, p < 0.0001) but Pseudonaja spp. were not different to non-envenomated. There was a significant correlation between venom concentrations and PLA2 activity (r = 0.71; p < 0.0001). PLA2 activity was predictive for envenomation; area under the receiver-operating-characteristic curve (AUC-ROC), 0.79 (95% confidence intervals [95%CI]: 0.72–0.85), which improved with brown snakes excluded, AUC-ROC, 0.88 (95%CI: 0.82–0.94). A cut-point of 16 nmol/min/mL gives a sensitivity of 72% and specificity of 100% for Australian snakes, excluding Pseudonaja. PLA2 activity was a good early predictor of envenomation in most Australian elapid bites. A bedside PLA2 activity test has potential utility for early case identification but may not be useful for excluding envenomation. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Venoms–Curse or Cure?)
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Open AccessArticle
An Examination of the Neutralization of In Vitro Toxicity of Chinese Cobra (Naja atra) Venom by Different Antivenoms
Biomedicines 2020, 8(10), 377; https://doi.org/10.3390/biomedicines8100377 - 25 Sep 2020
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 730
Abstract
The Chinese Cobra (Naja atra) is an elapid snake of major medical importance in southern China. We describe the in vitro neurotoxic, myotoxic, and cytotoxic effects of N. atra venom, as well as examining the efficacy of three Chinese monovalent antivenoms [...] Read more.
The Chinese Cobra (Naja atra) is an elapid snake of major medical importance in southern China. We describe the in vitro neurotoxic, myotoxic, and cytotoxic effects of N. atra venom, as well as examining the efficacy of three Chinese monovalent antivenoms (N. atra antivenom, Gloydius brevicaudus antivenom and Deinagkistrodon acutus antivenom) and an Australian polyvalent snake antivenom. In the chick biventer cervicis nerve-muscle preparation, N. atra venom (1–10 µg/mL) abolished indirect twitches in a concentration-dependent manner, as well as abolishing contractile responses to exogenous acetylcholine chloride (ACh) and carbamylcholine chloride (CCh), indicative of post-synaptic neurotoxicity. Contractile responses to potassium chloride (KCl) were also significantly inhibited by venom indicating myotoxicity. The prior addition of Chinese N. atra antivenom (0.75 U/mL) or Australian polyvalent snake antivenom (3 U/mL), markedly attenuated the neurotoxic actions of venom (3 µg/mL) and prevented the inhibition of contractile responses to ACh, CCh, and KCl. The addition of Chinese antivenom (0.75 U/mL) or Australian polyvalent antivenom (3 U/mL) at the t90 time point after the addition of venom (3 µg/mL), partially reversed the inhibition of twitches and significantly reversed the venom-induced inhibition of responses to ACh and CCh, but had no significant effect on the response to KCl. Venom (30 µg/mL) also abolished direct twitches in the chick biventer cervicis nerve-muscle preparation and caused a significant increase in baseline tension, further indicative of myotoxicity. N. atra antivenom (4 U/mL) prevented the myotoxic effects of venom (30 µg/mL). However, G. brevicaudus antivenom (24 U/mL), D. acutus antivenom (8 U/mL) and Australian polyvalent snake antivenom (33 U/mL) were unable to prevent venom (30 µg/mL) induced myotoxicity. In the L6 rat skeletal muscle myoblast cell line, N. atra venom caused concentration-dependent inhibition of cell viability, with a half maximal inhibitory concentration (IC50) of 2.8 ± 0.48 μg/mL. N. atra antivenom significantly attenuated the cytotoxic effect of the venom, whereas Australian polyvalent snake antivenom was less effective but still attenuated the cytotoxic effects at lower venom concentrations. Neither G. brevicaudus antivenom or D. acutus antivenom were able to prevent the cytotoxicity. This study indicates that Chinese N. atra monovalent antivenom is efficacious against the neurotoxic, myotoxic and cytotoxic effects of N. atra venom but the clinical effectiveness of the antivenom is likely to be diminished, even if given early after envenoming. The use of Chinese viper antivenoms (i.e., G. brevicaudus and D. acutus antivenoms) in cases of envenoming by the Chinese cobra is not supported by the results of the current study. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Venoms–Curse or Cure?)
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Open AccessArticle
Neutralizing Effects of Small Molecule Inhibitors and Metal Chelators on Coagulopathic Viperinae Snake Venom Toxins
Biomedicines 2020, 8(9), 297; https://doi.org/10.3390/biomedicines8090297 - 20 Aug 2020
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 822
Abstract
Animal-derived antivenoms are the only specific therapies currently available for the treatment of snake envenoming, but these products have a number of limitations associated with their efficacy, safety and affordability for use in tropical snakebite victims. Small molecule drugs and drug candidates are [...] Read more.
Animal-derived antivenoms are the only specific therapies currently available for the treatment of snake envenoming, but these products have a number of limitations associated with their efficacy, safety and affordability for use in tropical snakebite victims. Small molecule drugs and drug candidates are regarded as promising alternatives for filling the critical therapeutic gap between snake envenoming and effective treatment. In this study, by using an advanced analytical technique that combines chromatography, mass spectrometry and bioassaying, we investigated the effect of several small molecule inhibitors that target phospholipase A2 (varespladib) and snake venom metalloproteinase (marimastat, dimercaprol and DMPS) toxin families on inhibiting the activities of coagulopathic toxins found in Viperinae snake venoms. The venoms of Echis carinatus, Echis ocellatus, Daboia russelii and Bitis arietans, which are known for their potent haemotoxicities, were fractionated in high resolution onto 384-well plates using liquid chromatography followed by coagulopathic bioassaying of the obtained fractions. Bioassay activities were correlated to parallel recorded mass spectrometric and proteomics data to assign the venom toxins responsible for coagulopathic activity and assess which of these toxins could be neutralized by the inhibitors under investigation. Our results showed that the phospholipase A2-inhibitor varespladib neutralized the vast majority of anticoagulation activities found across all of the tested snake venoms. Of the snake venom metalloproteinase inhibitors, marimastat demonstrated impressive neutralization of the procoagulation activities detected in all of the tested venoms, whereas dimercaprol and DMPS could only partially neutralize these activities at the doses tested. Our results provide additional support for the concept that combinations of small molecules, particularly the combination of varespladib with marimastat, serve as a drug-repurposing opportunity to develop new broad-spectrum inhibitor-based therapies for snakebite envenoming. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Venoms–Curse or Cure?)
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Open AccessArticle
Small Molecules in the Venom of the Scorpion Hormurus waigiensis
Biomedicines 2020, 8(8), 259; https://doi.org/10.3390/biomedicines8080259 - 31 Jul 2020
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 898
Abstract
Despite scorpion stings posing a significant public health issue in particular regions of the world, certain aspects of scorpion venom chemistry remain poorly described. Although there has been extensive research into the identity and activity of scorpion venom peptides, non-peptide small molecules present [...] Read more.
Despite scorpion stings posing a significant public health issue in particular regions of the world, certain aspects of scorpion venom chemistry remain poorly described. Although there has been extensive research into the identity and activity of scorpion venom peptides, non-peptide small molecules present in the venom have received comparatively little attention. Small molecules can have important functions within venoms; for example, in some spider species the main toxic components of the venom are acylpolyamines. Other molecules can have auxiliary effects that facilitate envenomation, such as purines with hypotensive properties utilised by snakes. In this study, we investigated some non-peptide small molecule constituents of Hormurus waigiensis venom using LC/MS, reversed-phase HPLC, and NMR spectroscopy. We identified adenosine, adenosine monophosphate (AMP), and citric acid within the venom, with low quantities of the amino acids glutamic acid and aspartic acid also being present. Purine nucleosides such as adenosine play important auxiliary functions in snake venoms when injected alongside other venom toxins, and they may have a similar role within H. waigiensis venom. Further research on these and other small molecules in scorpion venoms may elucidate their roles in prey capture and predator defence, and gaining a greater understanding of how scorpion venom components act in combination could allow for the development of improved first aid. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Venoms–Curse or Cure?)
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Open AccessArticle
Novel Bradykinin-Potentiating Peptides and Three-Finger Toxins from Viper Venom: Combined NGS Venom Gland Transcriptomics and Quantitative Venom Proteomics of the Azemiops feae Viper
Biomedicines 2020, 8(8), 249; https://doi.org/10.3390/biomedicines8080249 - 28 Jul 2020
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 948
Abstract
Feae’s viper Azemipos feae belongs to the Azemiopinae subfamily of the Viperidae family. The effects of Viperidae venoms are mostly coagulopathic with limited neurotoxicity manifested by phospholipases A2. From A. feae venom, we have earlier isolated azemiopsin, a novel neurotoxin inhibiting the nicotinic [...] Read more.
Feae’s viper Azemipos feae belongs to the Azemiopinae subfamily of the Viperidae family. The effects of Viperidae venoms are mostly coagulopathic with limited neurotoxicity manifested by phospholipases A2. From A. feae venom, we have earlier isolated azemiopsin, a novel neurotoxin inhibiting the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor. To characterize other A. feae toxins, we applied label-free quantitative proteomics, which revealed 120 unique proteins, the most abundant being serine proteinases and phospholipases A2. In total, toxins representing 14 families were identified, among which bradykinin-potentiating peptides with unique amino acid sequences possessed biological activity in vivo. The proteomic analysis revealed also basal (commonly known as non-conventional) three-finger toxins belonging to the group of those possessing neurotoxic activity. This is the first indication of the presence of three-finger neurotoxins in viper venom. In parallel, the transcriptomic analysis of venom gland performed by Illumina next-generation sequencing further revealed 206 putative venom transcripts. Together, the study unveiled the venom proteome and venom gland transciptome of A. feae, which in general resemble those of other snakes from the Viperidae family. However, new toxins not found earlier in viper venom and including three-finger toxins and unusual bradykinin-potentiating peptides were discovered. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Venoms–Curse or Cure?)
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Open AccessArticle
Pharmacological Effects of a Novel Bradykinin-Related Peptide (RR-18) from the Skin Secretion of the Hejiang Frog (Ordorrana hejiangensis) on Smooth Muscle
Biomedicines 2020, 8(7), 225; https://doi.org/10.3390/biomedicines8070225 - 17 Jul 2020
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 844
Abstract
Bradykinin (BK) and bradykinin-related peptides (BRPs), which were identified from a diversity of amphibian skin secretions, exerted contractile and relaxing effects on non-vascular and vascular smooth muscle, respectively. Here, we report a novel bradykinin-related peptide with a molecular mass of 1890.2 Da, RVAGPDKPARISGLSPLR, [...] Read more.
Bradykinin (BK) and bradykinin-related peptides (BRPs), which were identified from a diversity of amphibian skin secretions, exerted contractile and relaxing effects on non-vascular and vascular smooth muscle, respectively. Here, we report a novel bradykinin-related peptide with a molecular mass of 1890.2 Da, RVAGPDKPARISGLSPLR, which was isolated and identified from Ordorrana hejiangensis skin secretions, followed by a C-terminal extension sequence VAPQIV. The biosynthetic precursor-encoding cDNA was cloned by the “shotgun” cloning method, and the novel RR-18 was identified and structurally confirmed by high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS). Subsequently, the myotropic activity of the synthetic replicate of RR-18 was investigated on the rat bladder, uterus, tail artery and ileum smooth muscle. The peptide was named RR-18 in accordance (R = N-terminal arginine, R = C-terminal arginine, 18 = number of residues). In this study, the synthetic replicates of RR-18 showed no agonist/antagonism of BK-induced rat bladder and uterus smooth muscle contraction. However, it displayed an antagonism of bradykinin-induced rat ileum contraction and arterial smooth muscle relaxation. The EC50 values of BK for ileum and artery, were 214.7 nM and 18.3 nM, respectively. When the tissue was pretreated with the novel peptide, RR-18, at the maximally effective concentration of bradykinin (1 × 10−6 M), bradykinin-induced contraction of the ileum and relaxation of the arterial smooth muscle was reduced by 50–60% and 30–40%, respectively. In conclusion, RR-18 represents novel bradykinin antagonising peptide from amphibian skin secretions. It may provide new insight into possible treatment options for chronic pain and chronic inflammation. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Venoms–Curse or Cure?)
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Open AccessArticle
It Takes Two: Dimerization Is Essential for the Broad-Spectrum Predatory and Defensive Activities of the Venom Peptide Mp1a from the Jack Jumper Ant Myrmecia pilosula
Biomedicines 2020, 8(7), 185; https://doi.org/10.3390/biomedicines8070185 - 30 Jun 2020
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 1371
Abstract
Ant venoms have recently attracted increased attention due to their chemical complexity, novel molecular frameworks, and diverse biological activities. The heterodimeric peptide ∆-myrtoxin-Mp1a (Mp1a) from the venom of the Australian jack jumper ant, Myrmecia pilosula, exhibits antimicrobial, membrane-disrupting, and pain-inducing activities. In [...] Read more.
Ant venoms have recently attracted increased attention due to their chemical complexity, novel molecular frameworks, and diverse biological activities. The heterodimeric peptide ∆-myrtoxin-Mp1a (Mp1a) from the venom of the Australian jack jumper ant, Myrmecia pilosula, exhibits antimicrobial, membrane-disrupting, and pain-inducing activities. In the present study, we examined the activity of Mp1a and a panel of synthetic analogues against the gastrointestinal parasitic nematode Haemonchus contortus, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, and for their ability to stimulate pain-sensing neurons. Mp1a was found to be both insecticidal and anthelmintic, and it robustly activated mammalian sensory neurons at concentrations similar to those reported to elicit antimicrobial and cytotoxic activity. The native antiparallel Mp1a heterodimer was more potent than heterodimers with alternative disulfide connectivity, as well as monomeric analogues. We conclude that the membrane-disrupting effects of Mp1a confer broad-spectrum biological activities that facilitate both predation and defense for the ant. Our structure–activity data also provide a foundation for the rational engineering of analogues with selectivity for particular cell types. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Venoms–Curse or Cure?)
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Open AccessArticle
Varespladib Inhibits the Phospholipase A2 and Coagulopathic Activities of Venom Components from Hemotoxic Snakes
Biomedicines 2020, 8(6), 165; https://doi.org/10.3390/biomedicines8060165 - 17 Jun 2020
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 1003
Abstract
Phospholipase A2 (PLA2) enzymes are important toxins found in many snake venoms, and they can exhibit a variety of toxic activities including causing hemolysis and/or anticoagulation. In this study, the inhibiting effects of the small molecule PLA2 inhibitor varespladib [...] Read more.
Phospholipase A2 (PLA2) enzymes are important toxins found in many snake venoms, and they can exhibit a variety of toxic activities including causing hemolysis and/or anticoagulation. In this study, the inhibiting effects of the small molecule PLA2 inhibitor varespladib on snake venom PLA2s was investigated by nanofractionation analytics, which combined chromatography, mass spectrometry (MS), and bioassays. The venoms of the medically important snake species Bothrops asper, Calloselasma rhodostoma, Deinagkistrodon acutus, Daboia russelii, Echis carinatus, Echis ocellatus, and Oxyuranus scutellatus were separated by liquid chromatography (LC) followed by nanofractionation and interrogation of the fractions by a coagulation assay and a PLA2 assay. Next, we assessed the ability of varespladib to inhibit the activity of enzymatic PLA2s and the coagulopathic toxicities induced by fractionated snake venom toxins, and identified these bioactive venom toxins and those inhibited by varespladib by using parallel recorded LC-MS data and proteomics analysis. We demonstrated here that varespladib was not only capable of inhibiting the PLA2 activities of hemotoxic snake venoms, but can also effectively neutralize the coagulopathic toxicities (most profoundly anticoagulation) induced by venom toxins. While varespladib effectively inhibited PLA2 toxins responsible for anticoagulant effects, we also found some evidence that this inhibitory molecule can partially abrogate procoagulant venom effects caused by different toxin families. These findings further emphasize the potential clinical utility of varespladib in mitigating the toxic effects of certain snakebites. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Venoms–Curse or Cure?)
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Open AccessArticle
Characterization of Synthetic Tf2 as a NaV1.3 Selective Pharmacological Probe
Biomedicines 2020, 8(6), 155; https://doi.org/10.3390/biomedicines8060155 - 11 Jun 2020
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 862
Abstract
NaV1.3 is a subtype of the voltage-gated sodium channel family. It has been implicated in the pathogenesis of neuropathic pain, although the contribution of this channel to neuronal excitability is not well understood. Tf2, a β-scorpion toxin previously identified from the [...] Read more.
NaV1.3 is a subtype of the voltage-gated sodium channel family. It has been implicated in the pathogenesis of neuropathic pain, although the contribution of this channel to neuronal excitability is not well understood. Tf2, a β-scorpion toxin previously identified from the venom of Tityus fasciolatus, has been reported to selectively activate NaV1.3. Here, we describe the activity of synthetic Tf2 and assess its suitability as a pharmacological probe for NaV1.3. As described for the native toxin, synthetic Tf2 (1 µM) caused early channel opening, decreased the peak current, and shifted the voltage dependence of NaV1.3 activation in the hyperpolarizing direction by −11.3 mV, with no activity at NaV1.1, NaV1.2, and NaV1.4-NaV1.8. Additional activity was found at NaV1.9, tested using the hNav1.9_C4 chimera, where Tf2 (1 µM) shifted the voltage dependence of activation by −6.3 mV. In an attempt to convert Tf2 into an NaV1.3 inhibitor, we synthetized the analogue Tf2[S14R], a mutation previously described to remove the excitatory activity of related β-scorpion toxins. Indeed, Tf2[S14R](10 µM) had reduced excitatory activity at NaV1.3, although it still caused a small −5.8 mV shift in the voltage dependence of activation. Intraplantar injection of Tf2 (1 µM) in mice caused spontaneous flinching and swelling, which was not reduced by the NaV1.1/1.3 inhibitor ICA-121431 nor in NaV1.9-/- mice, suggesting off-target activity. In addition, despite a loss of excitatory activity, intraplantar injection of Tf2[S14R](10 µM) still caused swelling, providing strong evidence that Tf2 has additional off-target activity at one or more non-neuronal targets. Therefore, due to activity at NaV1.9 and other yet to be identified target(s), the use of Tf2 as a selective pharmacological probe may be limited. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Venoms–Curse or Cure?)
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Open AccessArticle
Characterisation of a Novel A-Superfamily Conotoxin
Biomedicines 2020, 8(5), 128; https://doi.org/10.3390/biomedicines8050128 - 20 May 2020
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 972
Abstract
Conopeptides belonging to the A-superfamily from the venomous molluscs, Conus, are typically α-conotoxins. The α-conotoxins are of interest as therapeutic leads and pharmacological tools due to their selectivity and potency at nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) subtypes. Structurally, the α-conotoxins have a consensus [...] Read more.
Conopeptides belonging to the A-superfamily from the venomous molluscs, Conus, are typically α-conotoxins. The α-conotoxins are of interest as therapeutic leads and pharmacological tools due to their selectivity and potency at nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) subtypes. Structurally, the α-conotoxins have a consensus fold containing two conserved disulfide bonds that define the two-loop framework and brace a helical region. Here we report on a novel α-conotoxin Pl168, identified from the transcriptome of Conus planorbis, which has an unusual 4/8 loop framework. Unexpectedly, NMR determination of its three-dimensional structure reveals a new structural type of A-superfamily conotoxins with a different disulfide-stabilized fold, despite containing the conserved cysteine framework and disulfide connectivity of classical α-conotoxins. The peptide did not demonstrate activity on a range of nAChRs, or Ca2+ and Na+ channels suggesting that it might represent a new pharmacological class of conotoxins. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Venoms–Curse or Cure?)
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Open AccessArticle
Addition of K22 Converts Spider Venom Peptide Pme2a from an Activator to an Inhibitor of NaV1.7
Biomedicines 2020, 8(2), 37; https://doi.org/10.3390/biomedicines8020037 - 19 Feb 2020
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1228
Abstract
Spider venom is a novel source of disulfide-rich peptides with potent and selective activity at voltage-gated sodium channels (NaV). Here, we describe the discovery of μ-theraphotoxin-Pme1a and μ/δ-theraphotoxin-Pme2a, two novel peptides from the venom of the Gooty Ornamental tarantula [...] Read more.
Spider venom is a novel source of disulfide-rich peptides with potent and selective activity at voltage-gated sodium channels (NaV). Here, we describe the discovery of μ-theraphotoxin-Pme1a and μ/δ-theraphotoxin-Pme2a, two novel peptides from the venom of the Gooty Ornamental tarantula Poecilotheria metallica that modulate NaV channels. Pme1a is a 35 residue peptide that inhibits NaV1.7 peak current (IC50 334 ± 114 nM) and shifts the voltage dependence of activation to more depolarised membrane potentials (V1/2 activation: Δ = +11.6 mV). Pme2a is a 33 residue peptide that delays fast inactivation and inhibits NaV1.7 peak current (EC50 > 10 μM). Synthesis of a [+22K]Pme2a analogue increased potency at NaV1.7 (IC50 5.6 ± 1.1 μM) and removed the effect of the native peptide on fast inactivation, indicating that a lysine at position 22 (Pme2a numbering) is important for inhibitory activity. Results from this study may be used to guide the rational design of spider venom-derived peptides with improved potency and selectivity at NaV channels in the future. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Venoms–Curse or Cure?)
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Review

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Open AccessReview
Curses or Cures: A Review of the Numerous Benefits Versus the Biosecurity Concerns of Conotoxin Research
Biomedicines 2020, 8(8), 235; https://doi.org/10.3390/biomedicines8080235 - 22 Jul 2020
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1161
Abstract
Conotoxins form a diverse group of peptide toxins found in the venom of predatory marine cone snails. Decades of conotoxin research have provided numerous measurable scientific and societal benefits. These include their use as a drug, diagnostic agent, drug leads, and research tools [...] Read more.
Conotoxins form a diverse group of peptide toxins found in the venom of predatory marine cone snails. Decades of conotoxin research have provided numerous measurable scientific and societal benefits. These include their use as a drug, diagnostic agent, drug leads, and research tools in neuroscience, pharmacology, biochemistry, structural biology, and molecular evolution. Human envenomations by cone snails are rare but can be fatal. Death by envenomation is likely caused by a small set of toxins that induce muscle paralysis of the diaphragm, resulting in respiratory arrest. The potency of these toxins led to concerns regarding the potential development and use of conotoxins as biological weapons. To address this, various regulatory measures have been introduced that limit the use and access of conotoxins within the research community. Some of these regulations apply to all of the ≈200,000 conotoxins predicted to exist in nature of which less than 0.05% are estimated to have any significant toxicity in humans. In this review we provide an overview of the many benefits of conotoxin research, and contrast these to the perceived biosecurity concerns of conotoxins and research thereof. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Venoms–Curse or Cure?)
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Open AccessReview
Caterpillar Venom: A Health Hazard of the 21st Century
Biomedicines 2020, 8(6), 143; https://doi.org/10.3390/biomedicines8060143 - 30 May 2020
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 1536
Abstract
Caterpillar envenomation is a global health threat in the 21st century. Every direct or indirect contact with the urticating hairs of a caterpillar results in clinical manifestations ranging from local dermatitis symptoms to potentially life-threatening systemic effects. This is mainly due to the [...] Read more.
Caterpillar envenomation is a global health threat in the 21st century. Every direct or indirect contact with the urticating hairs of a caterpillar results in clinical manifestations ranging from local dermatitis symptoms to potentially life-threatening systemic effects. This is mainly due to the action of bioactive components in the venom that interfere with targets in the human body. The problem is that doctors are limited to relieve symptoms, since an effective treatment is still lacking. Only for Lonomia species an effective antivenom does exist. The health and economical damage are an underestimated problem and will be even more of a concern in the future. For some caterpillar species, the venom composition has been the subject of investigation, while for many others it remains unknown. Moreover, the targets involved in the pathophysiology are poorly understood. This review aims to give an overview of the knowledge we have today on the venom composition of different caterpillar species along with their pharmacological targets. Epidemiology, mode of action, clinical time course and treatments are also addressed. Finally, we briefly discuss the future perspectives that may open the doors for future research in the world of caterpillar toxins to find an adequate treatment. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Venoms–Curse or Cure?)
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Open AccessReview
Scorpion Venom: Detriments and Benefits
Biomedicines 2020, 8(5), 118; https://doi.org/10.3390/biomedicines8050118 - 12 May 2020
Cited by 7 | Viewed by 2553
Abstract
Scorpion venom may cause severe medical complications and untimely death if injected into the human body. Neurotoxins are the main components of scorpion venom that are known to be responsible for the pathological manifestations of envenoming. Besides neurotoxins, a wide range of other [...] Read more.
Scorpion venom may cause severe medical complications and untimely death if injected into the human body. Neurotoxins are the main components of scorpion venom that are known to be responsible for the pathological manifestations of envenoming. Besides neurotoxins, a wide range of other bioactive molecules can be found in scorpion venoms. Advances in separation, characterization, and biotechnological approaches have enabled not only the development of more effective treatments against scorpion envenomings, but have also led to the discovery of several scorpion venom peptides with interesting therapeutic properties. Thus, scorpion venom may not only be a medical threat to human health, but could prove to be a valuable source of bioactive molecules that may serve as leads for the development of new therapies against current and emerging diseases. This review presents both the detrimental and beneficial properties of scorpion venom toxins and discusses the newest advances within the development of novel therapies against scorpion envenoming and the therapeutic perspectives for scorpion toxins in drug discovery. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Venoms–Curse or Cure?)
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Open AccessReview
European Medicinal Leeches—New Roles in Modern Medicine
Biomedicines 2020, 8(5), 99; https://doi.org/10.3390/biomedicines8050099 - 27 Apr 2020
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1353
Abstract
Before the advent of modern medicine, natural resources were widely used by indigenous populations for the prevention and treatment of diseases. The associated knowledge, collectively described as folk medicine or traditional medicine, was largely based on trial-and-error testing of plant extracts (herbal remedies) [...] Read more.
Before the advent of modern medicine, natural resources were widely used by indigenous populations for the prevention and treatment of diseases. The associated knowledge, collectively described as folk medicine or traditional medicine, was largely based on trial-and-error testing of plant extracts (herbal remedies) and the use of invertebrates, particularly medicinal maggots of the blowfly Lucilia sericata and blood-sucking leeches. The widespread use of traditional medicine in the West declined as scientific advances allowed reproducible testing under controlled conditions and gave rise to the modern fields of biomedical research and pharmacology. However, many drugs are still derived from natural resources, and interest in traditional medicine has been renewed by the ability of researchers to investigate the medical potential of diverse species by high-throughput screening. Likewise, researchers are starting to look again at the benefits of maggot and leech therapy, based on the hypothesis that the use of such animals in traditional medicine is likely to reflect the presence of specific bioactive molecules that can be developed as drug leads. In this review, we consider the modern medical benefits of European medicinal leeches based on the systematic screening of their salivary proteins. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Venoms–Curse or Cure?)
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