- 03 October 2012
- Magazine issue 2885.
- For similar stories, visit the The Human Brain Topic Guide
ONE bite from a black mamba can kill a person within half an hour. Strangely though, venom from what’s arguably the world’s deadliest snake could actually be a painkiller on a par with morphine.
In search of a new analgesic, Anne Baron at the Institute of Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology in Valbonne, France, and her colleagues, hunted through hundreds of compounds for one that blocks acid-sensing ion channels in nerves. These are key in a common pain pathway. The successful compound turned out to be venom from a black mamba.
Baron’s team then identified which proteins in the venom blocked the ion channels, before naming them mambalgins and purifying them to produce a drug.
Mice injected with the drug appeared to be significantly more resilient to pain compared with those given a sham treatment (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature11494).
The drug did not affect the opioid receptors that are targeted by morphine but was just as effective in relieving pain.
Anyone taking the new drug might therefore avoid side effects associated with morphine, which include addiction and breathing problems, says Baron