Scorpion venom is notoriously poisonous ― but it might be used as an alternative to dangerous and addictive painkillers like morphine, a Tel Aviv University researcher claims.
Prof. Michael Gurevitz of Tel Aviv University's Department of Plant Sciences is investigating new ways for developing a novel painkiller based on natural compounds found in the venom of scorpions. These compounds have gone through millions of years of evolution and some show high efficacy and specificity for certain components of the body with no side effects, he says.
Peptide toxins found in scorpion venom interact with sodium channels in nervous and muscular systems ― and some of these sodium channels communicate pain, says Prof. Gurevitz. "The mammalian body has nine different sodium channels of which only a certain subtype delivers pain to our brain. We are trying to understand how toxins in the venom interact with sodium channels at the molecular level and particularly how some of the toxins differentiate among channel subtypes.
"If we figure this out, we may be able to slightly modify such toxins, making them more potent and specific for certain pain mediating sodium channels," Prof. Gurevitz continues. With this information, engineering of chemical derivatives that mimic the scorpion toxins would provide novel pain killers of high specificity that have no side effects.
An ancient Chinese secret?
In his research, Prof. Gurevitz is concentrating on the Israeli yellow scorpion, one of the most potent scorpions in the world. Its venom contains more than 300 peptides of which only a minor fraction has been explored. The reason for working with this venom, he says, is the large arsenal of active components such as the toxins that have diversified during hundreds of millions of years under selective pressure. During that process, some toxins have evolved with the capability to directly affect mammalian sodium channel subty
|Contact: George Hunka|
American Friends of Tel Aviv University