Friday, 31 March 2017

This timid little fish escapes predators by injecting them with opioid-laced venom




Date: March 30, 2017
Source: Cell Press

Fang blennies are small fish with big teeth. Specifically, they have two large canine teeth that jut out of their lower jaw. Since blenny fish are only about two inches long, these "fangs" would be less than intimidating if not for the venom within. Blenny fish venom most likely causes a sudden drop in blood pressure in would-be predators, such as grouper fish, that have been bitten by blennies, researchers report on March 30 in Current Biology.

When the researchers did a proteomic analysis of extracted fang blenny venom, they found three venom components -- a neuropeptide that occurs in cone snail venom, a lipase similar to one from scorpions, and an opioid peptide. And, surprisingly, when they injected the blenny venom into lab mice, the mice didn't show any signs of pain.

"For the fang blenny venom to be painless in mice was quite a surprise," says study co-author Bryan Fry of University of Queensland. "Fish with venomous dorsal spines produce immediate and blinding pain. The most pain I've ever been in other than the time I broke my back was from a stingray envenomation. 'Sting'ray sounds so benign. They don't sting. They are pure hell."

Fang blenny venom, however, seems to have a very different effect on its victims. Since the researchers used rodents for the pain test, they can't entirely rule out the possibility of blenny venom causing pain in fish, but it seems plausible that the neuropeptide and opioid components may cause a sudden drop in blood pressure, most likely leaving the blenny's attacker disorientated and unable to give chase. "By slowing down potential predators, the fang blennies have a chance to escape," says Fry. "While the feeling of pain is not produced, opioids can produce sensations of extremely unpleasant nausea and dizziness [in mammals]."

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