Tarantula venom has been proven to be effective in alleviating chronic pain, in a new experiment carried out by scientists at the University of Queensland, in Brisbane, Australia.
Research was led by Sonia Troeira Henriques, an expert in biochemistry, biophysics and spectroscopy, affiliated with the Institute for Molecular Bioscience.
Henriques and her colleagues had already suspected that venom released by the Peruvian green velvet tarantula might function well as a painkiller, thanks to a peptide called ProTx-II.
The theory had been previously formulated by Michael Nitabach, Boyi Liu and Junhong Gui at Yale University back in February 2014, after an extensive analysis which included over 100 different types of toxins produced by arachnids.
The experts had discovered that tarantula venom was capable of influencing the activity of a protein called TRPA1, which is used as an ion channel that can sense irritants from the outside, generating reactions such as pain, itching or cold.
Now, the purpose of this new trial was to identify the exact pain receptor (nociceptor) that the molecule of amino acids known as ProTx-II would bind to, in order to diminish the sensation of pain.
With this aim in mind, experts turned to nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR) so that they could monitor the changing structure of the toxin.
Moreover, they resorted to other techniques such as fluorescence spectroscopy, surface plasmon resonance (SPR) and molecular simulations so that they could investigate the dynamics and the chemical reactions associated with each molecule contained by the peptide.
That’s how it was discovered that ProTx-II extracted from tarantula venom impacts the activity of a pain receptor called Nav 1.7.
This process is aided by the nerve cell’s membrane, which brings the peptides closer to sensory neurons, causing them to accumulate there and remain glued in such a way that the mitigating impact of these molecules is exacerbated as much as possible.
Now that study authors have found this brand new way of curbing chronic pain, they are now hoping to identify other toxins which would be even more strongly attracted by nociceptors, and whose effect could be even more potent than that demonstrated by this particular peptide found in tarantula venom.
After all, after examining venom from 200 different arachnid species, experts have already come to the conclusion that 40% of these toxins can inhibit Nav 1.7 sodium ion channels, and there are approximately 45,000 other such spiders which are yet to be examined, and which might harbor venom that’s even more useful when it comes to relieving pain.
Meanwhile, scientists affiliated with the Pharmaceutical Institute at the University of Bonn have been obtaining similarly promising results while studying the effectiveness of other peptides, derived from cone snail venom, and medication based on such toxins has already been manufactured.
The drug is called ziconotide (Prialt) and can be administered as an intrathecal injection to people who experience severe pain caused by cancer, AIDS, tissue injuries, unsuccessful spine surgeries etc.
The hope is that such alternative treatments would be much less likely to cause debilitating adverse reactions such as chronic fatigue, or to trigger a life-threatening addiction, the way conventional painkillers tend to do at times.
At the same time, it is believed medication containing tarantula venom or snail venom could be much more effective, given the fact that such substances interact so easily with pain receptors.
For now, the findings of this recently conducted trial are treated as preliminary, since they haven’t yet been detailed in a peer-reviewed journal, although they have been presented at the 60th annual meeting of the Biophysical Society, currently being held at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Image Source: Pinterest