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Coral snake venom reveals a unique route to lethality

Venom’s toxins will be a powerful tool for studying epilepsy, and

Fast Facts:

  • The reason for the lethality of venom from the rare, reclusive Costa Rican has been a mystery.
  • An international 12-year project revealed that the two main toxins in the venom target certain receptors on in the brain and spinal cord of mammals.
  • The toxins may help reveal how flaws in these receptors cause epilepsy, schizophrenia and chronic pain.

For more than a decade, a vial of rare refused to give up its secret formula for lethality; its toxins had no effect on the proteins that most venoms target. Finally, an international team of researchers figured out its recipe: a toxin that permanently activates a crucial type of nerve cell protein, preventing the cells from resetting and causing deadly seizures in prey. The details are published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of Feb. 9.

The Coral Snake Micrurus mipartitus
This is the rare coral snake Micrurus mipartitus.
Credit:Alejandro Solórzano


Other authors of the report include Jean-Pierre Rosso, Brigitte Ceard and Pierre Bougis of Aix Marseille University in France; Jurgen Schwarz and Matthias Kneussel of the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany; Marcelo Diaz-Bustamante of The Johns Hopkins University; Maria Gutierrex of the Universidad de Costa Rica; and Olaf Pongs of the Universitat des Saarlandes in Germany.

This work was supported by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.

Johns Hopkins Medicine