The venom from a tarantula may be deadly, but it apparently could have a therapeutic side as well. Researchers from the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, say their work shows a compound in tarantula venom has the potential to work as a painkiller.
The researchers were able to take individual peptide toxins called ProTx-II from the Peruvian green velvet tarantula and found that they bind to and inhibit pain receptors in brain cells.
“Our group is specifically interested in understanding the mode of action of this toxin to gain information that can guide us in the design and optimization of novel pain therapeutics,” Sónia Troeira Henriques, senior research officer at the University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience, said in a press release.
The researchers presented their work at the Biophysical Society’s 60th Annual Meeting in Los Angeles this week. While they say it shows promise, much more research needs to be done before any potential drug could be developed and tested in humans.
What’s driving this research is the fact that many current treatments for chronic and neuropathic pain offer limited relief and come with the risk of addiction. Scientists hope painkillers developed from tarantula toxin might provide a potent, long-lasting alternative.
In the lab, they found ProTx-II is highly potent and binds to the pain receptor found within the membrane of neuronal cells in the brain.
“The precise peptide-receptor binding site and the importance of the cell membrane in the inhibitory activity of ProTx-II is unknown,” Henriques said.
“Our results show that the cell membrane plays an important role in the ability of ProTx-II to inhibit the pain receptor,” she added. “In particular, the neuronal cell membranes attract the peptide to the neurons, increase its concentration close to the pain receptors, and lock the peptide in the right orientation to maximize its interaction with the target.”
Unsurprisingly, there hasn’t been much research on the membrane-binding properties of tarantula toxin. This study is the first to illustrate these properties, as well as the toxin’s strength as an inhibitor of Nav 1.7, which is a crucial pain receptor.
Inspired by the toxins found in the fangs of these furry, creepy crawlers, the research team is now attempting to design new compounds that have a greater affinity for the cell membranes and that might possess fewer side effects.
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