AsianScientist (Jun. 17, 2016) – Spiders aren’t just creepy crawlies—these eight-legged creatures have helped researchers discover a new target for irritable bowel syndrome pain.
In the research, published in Nature, an international team from Australia and the US used spider venom to identify a specific protein involved in transmitting mechanical pain, which is the type of pain experienced by patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Symptoms of IBS include abdominal pain, diarrhea and constipation.
“IBS places a large burden on individuals and on the health system, but there are currently no effective treatments. Instead, sufferers are advised to avoid triggers that will cause their symptoms to flare up,” says Associate Professor Stuart Brierley, who is the co-study leader and head of the University of Adelaide’s Visceral Pain Group.
A total of 109 spider, scorpion and centipede venoms were investigated as part of the study. Venom from a species of tarantula native to West Africa, Heteroscodra maculata, produced the strongest result.
An ion channel (a protein in nerves and muscles) called Nav1.1 was found to be activated by the spider venom. This suggests that Nav1.1, previously implicated in epilepsy, also plays a significant role in sensing and transmitting pain.
Further investigation revealed that Nav1.1 is present in pain-sensing nerves in the gut and underlies the abdominal pain felt by irritable bowel syndrome patients.
According to co-study leader Professor Glenn King from the University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience Centre for Pain Research, spider venom is an effective tool for investigating pain signaling in the human body.
“Spiders make toxins to kill prey and defend themselves against predators, and the most effective way to defend against a predator is to make them feel excruciating pain,” King said.
“Spider venom should therefore be full of molecules that stimulate the pain-sensing nerves in our body, allowing us to discover new pain pathways by examining which nerves are activated when exposed to spider toxins.”
The team is now developing molecules that will block Nav1.1 and alleviate irritable bowel syndrome pain.
The article can be found at: Osteen et al. (2016) Selective Spider Toxins Reveal a Role for the Nav1.1 Channel in Mechanical Pain.
Source: University of Adelaide; Photo: David Boté Estrada/Flickr/CC.
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