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Venom composition of adult Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes (Crotalus atrox) maintained under controlled diet and environmental conditions shows only minor changes

Christopher J Rex, Stephen P Mackessy
Toxicon: Official Journal of the International Society on Toxinology 2019 April 4
Many species of snakes produce venom as a chemical means of procuring potentially fractious prey. Studies have increasingly focused on venom compositional variation between and within individual snakes of the same species/subspecies, with significant differences often being observed. This variation in composition has been attributed to differences in age, season, diet, and environment, suggesting that these factors could help explain the inter- and intra-specific variation found in some snake venoms, perhaps via some type of feedback mechanism(s). To address several of these possible sources of variation, this study utilized wild-caught Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes (Crotalus atrox) from Cochise Co., AZ. Sixteen adult C. atrox were maintained in the lab on a diet of NSA mice for eight months to determine whether venom composition changed in captivity under a static diet in a stable environment. Reducing 1-D SDS-PAGE, fibrinogen degradation assays, reversed-phase HPLC, and MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry revealed only minor differences over time within individuals. Venom L-amino acid oxidase (LAAO) and phosphodiesterase activities significantly increased over the course of captivity, with no changes occurring in azocasein metalloproteinase, kallikrein-like serine proteinase (KLSP), or thrombin-like serine proteinase (TLSP) activities. Snake total length was positively correlated with TLSP activity and negatively correlated with LAAO and KLSP activity. There was typically a much higher degree of variation between individuals than within individuals for all analyses performed and measurements collected. Because the overall "fingerprint" of each snake's venom remained more/less constant, it is concluded that biologically significant changes in venom composition did not occur within individual C. atrox as a function of captivity/diet. However, this study does indicate that differences in activity levels do occur in minor venom enzyme components, but the differences observed are likely to be of minimal significance to the production of antivenom or to subsequent treatment of human envenomations.


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