|Texas Coral Snake, Micrurus tener tener.|
National Natural Toxins Research Center,
Texas A&M University.
Snake venom is a potential source of many new medicines, and new research finds the Texas Coral Snake, Micrurus tener tener, has venom molecules capable of triggering an previously unknown pain mechanism in humans. There are many different types of pain some respond to changes in heat or pressure from a burn or a punched while others respond to chemicals, such as acids. Micrurus venom triggers a novel pain receptor on nerves that could be useful in the development of drugs to treat snakebites or other painful phenomena in a targeted fashion without having to use opiates.
Texas coral venom has MitTx which activates some nerve cells, by opening a channel on the outside of the skin's nerve cells, sending a signal up to the brain. Oddly, even though MitTx isn't acidic, it turned on a channel related to those that usually respond to acids.The channels' acid-sensing relatives produce pain when tissues are deprived of blood and oxygen, but MitTx is specific for a channel that hasn't been implicated in pain sensation before.The pain pathway uncovered here is not one previously studied.
Because this pain caused by MiTx is mediated through this newly discovered pathway, it's possible that traditional pain relievers such as aspirin, which work through different receptors, wouldn't help the pain. Pain from coral snake bites is usually treated opiates , like morphine, but a more targeted and less addictive pain reliever would be beneficial.
Bohlen, C. J. et al. 2011. A heteromeric Texas coral snake toxin targets acid-sensing ion channels to produce pain. Nature 479, 410–414