FunNature & AnimalSnail venom could be used to produce painkillers

Snail venom could be used to produce painkillers


There is a type of carnivorous deep-sea snail, the cones, which inject their victims (fish) with a toxin that can even be fatal to humans. These snails stick out their tongue-like proboscis and, in an instant, harpoon their prey, filling it with a paralyzing poison. However, certain compounds of this poison could be used to create anti-inflammatories or analgesics, as discovered by an international team of scientists led by the University of Utah and the University of Copenhagen and reported in the journal Science Advances.


killer invertebrates

Scientists have studied the venom of cone snails extensively, but a new study explores their surprising potential medicinal properties. There are more than 1,000 known species of cone snails, but only about 2% have been closely analyzed.

The new work has concluded that this poison contains chemical compounds that can be adapted to treat chronic pain, diabetes and other human diseases. Specifically, they discovered that a particular group of cone snails ( Conus rolani) -which lives in deep and inaccessible waters- produces a compound poison similar to the hormone somatostatin, a hormone that, in humans and many other vertebrates, acts as a multipurpose inhibitor .

“So it is this hormone that has many, many different functions in the human body. But it’s always blocking something. And because of that, it had been an interesting hormone for drug development for some time,” explains Helena Safavi-Hemami, adjunct assistant professor at the University of Utah and associate professor at the University of Copenhagen and co-author of the study.

The difference between the pain-inhibiting hormone in humans and the toxic compound in the cone snail is that the snail version lasts much longer and could be used to help develop new painkillers. The snail’s compound, called Conosomatin Ro1 , has a half-life of more than 158 hours, experts report.


A compound that suppresses pain

According to experts, the compound shows promise in making future therapies, or pain relievers, for patients with cancer, endocrine disorders, and severe and chronic pain.

Although not all sea snails have poison glands, this species specifically contains a very powerful mix. Upon injection, the venom sends the victim into excitotoxic shock , rendering them immobile within seconds. The snail then opens its mouth to engulf its prey, causing a slow and painful death.

The snail compound called Consomatin Ro1 binds to two of the five receptors in humans that activate pain inhibition , suggesting it might work in people. The scientists also studied the effect of Conosomatin Ro1 on mice, and experiments found that higher doses of the compound reduced their sensitivity to pain with similar efficacy to morphine. In this way, it is inferred that cone snails can use it to block pain so that their prey does not know that it has been stung.

“This gives insight into the development of next-generation therapies. More broadly, this is a great example of how evolution in the natural world has already developed drug-like natural products that have great potential to improve human health, ” says Christopher Hill, Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Utah. .

Referencia: Iris Bea Ramiro et al. “Somatostatin venom analogs evolved by fish-hunting cone snails: From prey capture behavior to identifying drug leads” Science Advances


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