Thursday, 15 November 2012

Super-Toxic Snake Venom Could Yield New Painkillers


A bite from the black mamba snake (Dendroaspis polylepis) can kill an adult human within 20 minutes. But mixed in with that toxic venom is a new natural class of compound that could be used to help develop new painkillers.

Named “mambalgins,” these peptides block acute and inflammatory pain in mice as well as morphine does, according to a new study.

Researchers, led by Sylvie Diochot, of the Institute of Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology at Nice University, Sophia Antipolis in France, purified the peptides from the venom and profiled the compounds’ structure. They then were able to test the mambalgins in strains of mice with various genetic tweaks to their pain pathways. Diochot and her colleagues determined that the mambalgins work by blocking an as-yet untargeted set of neurological ion channels associated with pain signals. The findings were published online October 3 in Nature (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group).

As a bonus, mambalgins did not have the risky side effect of respiratory depression that morphine does. And the mice developed less tolerance to them over time than is typical with morphine.


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