Venom immunotherapy is a burgeoning health care sector that has recently begun looking into unique treatments derived from venemous animals. New research presented at the Biophysical Society’s 60th Annual Meeting in Los Angeles shows the potential for ProTx-II, a peptide toxin extracted from the venom of the Peruvian green velvet tarantula (Thrixopelma pruriens), as an effective and non-addictive alternative for painkillers.

How exactly does ProTx-II work? "It binds to the pain receptor located within the membrane of neuronal cells, but the precise peptide-receptor binding site and the importance of the cell membrane in the inhibitory activity of ProTx-II is unknown," said Sónia Troeira Henriques, senior research officer at the University of Queensland's Institute for Molecular Bioscience, in a statement.

Henriques and her colleagues used nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy to examine ProTx-II’s ability to inhibit pain receptors by facilitating the 3-D characterization of its structure. Other techniques were used to study the interaction between the peptide and the neuronal cell membrane and find its molecular properties that control interaction with and inhibition of pain receptors.

The Peruvian green velvet tarantula isn’t the only creepy crawler being tapped for pain-inhibiting properties. Thousands of different species of spiders possess venom with the potential for painkiller development. Researchers from Yale University developed a new technique, dubbed “toxineering,” which makes it possible to screen a copious amount of toxins in search of the ones that can help bolster pain management or other medical conditions.

"Our group is specifically interested in understanding the mode of action of this toxin to gain information that can guide us in the design and optimization of novel pain therapeutics," Henriques said. "Our work creates an opportunity to explore the importance of the cell membrane in the activity of peptide toxins that target other voltage-gated ion channels involved in important disorders."

Researchers Nicholas Tatonetti, assistant professor of biomedical informatics at Columbia University, and Joseph Romano, a graduate student, recently developed the world’s first therapeutic venom database known as Venom Knowledge Base (VenomKB). After sifting through 5,117 studies that described the potential for venom to treat a range of conditions, including cancer, diabetes, and obesity, they were able to document over 42,000 effects on the body.

Source: Schroeder C, Deuis J, Henriques S, et al. Rational design and synthesis of a novel membrane binding NaV1.8 selective inhibitor with in vivo activity in pain models. Biophysical Society’s 60th Annual Meeting. 2016.