Toxin in centipede venom identified

January 23, 2018 by Bob Yirka, Phys.org report
A golden head centipede attacks a Kunming mouse. Credit: PNAS

A team of researchers from several institutions in China has identified the toxin in golden head centipede venom. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the group describes how they found the toxin that makes the venom so deadly to prey and also identified a possible antidote for it.

Researchers have known for quite some time that golden head centipedes (aka the Chinese red-headed centipede), which live in Asia and Hawaii are able to subdue prey larger than its own size, in some cases, much larger—testing in a lab showed a centipede was able to take down a mouse, a creature 15 times its size. Until now, it was not known what was in the venom that made it so powerful. In this new effort, the researchers report that they have isolated the in the venom, which they call Ssm Spooky Toxin—the Ssm comes from the scientific name of the centipede, Scolopendra subspinipes mutilans. The team found the toxin by testing the chemicals in the one by one—a laborious process. The toxin works, the team reports, by blocking potassium from moving in and out of cells. Such blockage prevents the brain from signaling the heart to beat, and the animal dies very quickly. Potassium movement is also important for cells in airways, which means the victim of a bite also starts having problems breathing.

When people are bitten by a golden head centipede, they experience a lot of pain, so much that many take themselves to a hospital for relief. It is actually quite common—in Hawaii, the researchers note, centipede bites accounted for approximately 1 in 10 due to natural causes over the years 2004 to 2008 (averaging approximately 400 a year). Deaths from such bites are rare, however.

Prior research has shown that a drug called retigabine is able to reestablish potassium channels—it is normally used as an anticonvulsant medicine for epilepsy patients. In this case, it might be used instead as an for people bitten by the .

Explore further: First widespread look at evolution of venomous centipedes

More information: Lei Luo et al. Centipedes subdue giant prey by blocking KCNQ channels, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2018). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1714760115

Abstract
Centipedes can subdue giant prey by using venom, which is metabolically expensive to synthesize and thus used frugally through efficiently disrupting essential physiological systems. Here, we show that a centipede (Scolopendra subspinipes mutilans, ∼3 g) can subdue a mouse (∼45 g) within 30 seconds. We found that this observation is largely due to a peptide toxin in the venom, SsTx, and further established that SsTx blocks KCNQ potassium channels to exert the lethal toxicity. We also demonstrated that a KCNQ opener, retigabine, neutralizes the toxicity of a centipede's venom. The study indicates that centipedes' venom has evolved to simultaneously disrupt cardiovascular, respiratory, muscular, and nervous systems by targeting the broadly distributed KCNQ channels, thus providing a therapeutic strategy for centipede envenomation.

Related Stories

Spider and centipede venom evolved from insulin-like hormone

June 11, 2015

Funnel-web spider venom contains powerful neurotoxins that instantly paralyze prey (usually insects). Millions of years ago, however, this potent poison was just a hormone that helped ancestors of these spiders regulate sugar ...

Why scorpion stings are so painful

August 3, 2017

(Phys.org)—A combined team of researchers from the U.S. and China has figured out why scorpion stings are so painful. In their paper published on the open access site Science Advances, the team explains how scorpion venom ...

Scientists find scorpions target their venom

October 12, 2017

Dr Jamie Seymour from JCU's Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine (AITHM) said a typical scorpion predator would be a small mammal, while its prey was usually an insect. He said varieties of scorpion toxin ...

International team completes genome sequence of centipede

November 25, 2014

An international collaboration of scientists including Baylor College of Medicine has completed the first genome sequence of a myriapod, Strigamia maritima - a member of a group venomous centipedes that care for their eggs ...

Recommended for you

Research offers new insights into malaria parasite

May 18, 2018

A team of researchers led by a University of California, Riverside, scientist has found that various stages of the development of human malaria parasites, including stages involved in malaria transmission, are linked to epigenetic ...

What we've learned about the nucleolus since you left school

May 17, 2018

The size of a cell's nucleolus may reveal how long that cell, or even the organism that cell belongs to, will live. Over the past few years, researchers have been piecing together an unexpected link between aging and an organelle ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

moranity
not rated yet Jan 25, 2018
less of the disturbing pictures please
jibbles
not rated yet Jan 29, 2018
utterly sadistic and unnecessary to subject a mouse to such a horrifying death.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.