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Study Uncovers New Secret From Spider Venom

Update Date: Aug 30, 2013 11:11 AM EDT

Nature is a huge source of information for researchers to use when it comes to developing new medicines and treatments. Not only can natural products created by animals and insects provide answers to medical questions, these byproducts can also help gear medical advances. For years, researchers have been interested in venom from all kinds of insects or animals. In a recent study, researchers looked at spider venom specifically. They discovered a new chemical product produced by the venom of the brown recluse spider.  

The researchers from the University of Arizona headed a team that looked into the venom of spiders from the genus, Loxosceles. This genus includes around 100 spider species. The one species that the research team looked into is called the brown recluse spider. From these spiders, the researchers examined how the venom leads to the production of a chemical product in humans that is different from what researchers previously thought.

When it comes to common spider bites, some of them can be extremely fatal to humans. The venom in the brown recluse spider, specifically, contains a protein that leads to a blackened lesion at the bite site. This protein is also believed to lead to a dangerous reaction is some humans. When the protein enters the wound site, it attacks phospholipid molecules, which results in a simple, linear, headless lipid molecule. In this new study, the researches discovered that the protein actually causes the lipids to bend and take a ring structure after the lipids lose the head portion as opposed to the linear formation. The cyclic structure then triggers a chemical product.

"This is not a protein that is usually found in the venom of poisonous animals," Matthew Cordes, an associate professor in the UA's department of chemistry and biochemistry, said according to a press release. Cordes led the study. "The very first step of this whole process that leads to skin and tissue damage or systemic effects is not what we thought it was."

The finding is interesting because the newly identified ring structure suggests that the chemical properties are different from what the researchers previously thought existed in the linear headless lipid structure. The researchers do not know what the biological differences are yet. The researchers were able to come to this new finding after looking at three brown recluse spiders. They collected the venom and tested them in the lab after isolating the spiders' DNA.

"The properties of this cyclic molecule aren't well-known yet, but knowing that it's being produced by toxins in venoms might heighten interest," Cordes explained. "Knowing how the protein is actually working and making this cyclic molecule could also lead to better insights on how to inhibit protein."

The researchers hope that this protein can uncover more ways to treat a bite from the brown recluse spider. When people do get bitten, the most common reaction is inflammation. After one to two days, the bite wound could develop into a dark lesion that indicates dead skin cells, which is a sign that the immune system is attempting to fight off the spread of the venom by stopping the blood flow to the bite wound. About once in every five years, someone might develop a serious systemic reaction that could be fatal.

The study was published in PLOS ONE. 

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