Molecules in tarantula venom could be used as an alternative to opioid pain killers for people seeking chronic pain relief.
Institute for Molecular Bioscence researchers have designed a new tarantula venom mini-protein that can potentially relieve severe pain without addiction.
Dr Christina Schroeder said the current opioid crisis around the world meant urgent alternatives to morphine and morphine-like drugs, such as fentanyl and oxycodone, were desperately needed.
“Although opioids are effective in producing pain relief, they come with unwanted side-effects like nausea, constipation and the risk of addiction, placing a huge burden on society," - Dr Schroeder.“Our study found that a mini-protein in tarantula venom from the Chinese bird spider, known as Huwentoxin-IV, binds to pain receptors in the body.
“By using a three-pronged approach in our drug design that incorporates the mini-protein, its receptor and the surrounding membrane from the spider venom, we’ve altered this mini-protein resulting in greater potency and specificity for specific pain receptors.
“This ensures that just the right amount of the mini-protein attaches itself to the receptor and the cell membrane surrounding the pain receptors.”
Dr Schroeder said the mini-protein had been tested in mouse models and shown to work effectively.
“Our findings could potentially lead to an alternative method of treating pain without the side-effects and reduce many individuals’ reliance on opioids for pain relief,” she said.
Reference: Agwa, et al. (2020) Manipulation of a spider peptide toxin alters its affinity for lipid bilayers and potency and selectivity for voltage-gated sodium channel subtype 1.7. The Journal of Biological Chemistry. DOI: 10.1074/jbc.RA119.012281
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