Tropical marine neurotoxins: venoms to drugs

Michael R Watters
Seminars in Neurology 2005, 25 (3): 278-89
Neurotoxic venoms are common among tropical marine creatures, which have specialized apparatuses for delivery of the venoms. These include jellyfish and anemones, venomous cone snails, venomous fish, stingrays, sea snakes, and venomous octopuses. Numerous toxic neuropeptides are found within these venoms, and some can discriminate between closely related intracellular targets, a characteristic that makes them useful to define cation channels and attractive for drug development. A synthetic derivative of an omega-conotoxin is now available, representing a new class of analgesics. In general, toxic marine venoms contain proteins that are heat labile, providing opportunity for therapeutic intervention following envenomation, while ingestible seafood toxins are thermostable toxins. Ingestible toxins found in the tropics include those associated with reef fish, pufferfish, and some shellfish, which serve as food-chain vectors for toxins produced by marine microorganisms.

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