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Snake spills venomous secrets
Date:11/17/2011

Examining venom from a variety of poisonous snakes, a group of researchers at the University of California, San Francisco has discovered why the bite of one small black, yellow and red serpent called the Texas coral snake can be so painful.

The finding offers insights into chronic and acute pain and provides new research tools that may help pharmaceutical companies design drugs to combat pain.

The venom contains a toxic mixture of chemicals that includes two special proteins that join together, glom tightly onto tiny detectors on human nerve endings and don't let go. These detectors normally sense acid burns, and after the snake bites, the victim's brain receives unrelenting signals of an acid-like burn.

"Bites from this snake are associated with really intense, unremitting pain," said David Julius, PhD, the Morris Herzstein Chair in Molecular Biology & Medicine at UCSF, who led the research. "This work helps to explains why and gives us new tools for examining how our brains perceive pain."

Described this week in the journal Nature, the work teases apart the components of the Texas coral snake's venom and shows how they work in the human body.

While common in Texas and Louisiana, the snake is not considered a major threat to humans. It does not bite people often doing so only defensively when trapped. When it does, however, its neurotoxic venom is so potent that those bitten often have to be hospitalized and given large doses of morphine and other drugs to dampen the intense pain, which can last for weeks.

Venom, Pain, and the Brain

Many of the venoms and toxins in the natural world work by triggering normal mechanisms in the human body designed to detect things like temperature, pressure, and other physical and chemical factors in our environment.

All the information the brain receives about sights, smells, textures and tastes comes through molecular detectors. Found at the en
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Contact: Jason Socrates Bardi
jason.bardi@ucsf.edu
415-502-6397
University of California - San Francisco
Source:Eurekalert  

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