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- 12/05/16--16:52: _Viper venom botox: ...
- 11/07/16--06:13: _The snake with the ...
- 04/06/17--20:49: _The evolution of fa...
- 03/13/17--07:24: _The cardiovascular ...
- 08/21/17--07:13: _Enter the dragon: t...
- 07/08/17--08:00: _Correlation between...
- 05/25/17--16:24: _Coagulating colubri...
- 08/14/17--07:09: _Catch a tiger snake...
- 07/15/16--04:17: _Canopy venom: prote...
- 01/23/18--18:05: _Proteomic and funct...
- 02/27/18--17:07: _Factor X activating...
- 04/06/17--20:49: The evolution of fangs, venom, and mimicry systems in blenny fishes
Venom systems have evolved on multiple occasions across the animal kingdom, and they can act as key adaptations to protect animals from predators . Consequently, venomous animals serve as models for a rich source of mimicry types, as non-venomous species benefit from reductions in predation risk by mimicking the coloration, body shape, and/or movement of toxic counterparts [2–5]. The frequent evolution of such deceitful imitations provides notable examples of phenotypic convergence and are often invoked as classic exemplars of evolution by natural selection. Here, we investigate the evolution of fangs, venom, and mimetic relationships in reef fishes from the tribe Nemophini (fangblennies). Comparative morphological analyses reveal that enlarged canine teeth (fangs) originated at the base of the Nemophini radiation and have enabled a micropredatory feeding strategy in non-venomous Plagiotremus spp. Subsequently, the evolution of deep anterior grooves and their coupling to venom secretory tissue provide Meiacanthus spp. with toxic venom that they effectively employ for defense. We find that fangblenny venom contains a number of toxic components that have been independently recruited into other animal venoms, some of which cause toxicity via interactions with opioid receptors, and result in a multifunctional biochemical phenotype that exerts potent hypotensive effects. The evolution of fangblenny venom has seemingly led to phenotypic convergence via the formation of a diverse array of mimetic relationships that provide protective (Batesian mimicry) and predatory (aggressive mimicry) benefits to other fishes [2, 6]. Our results further our understanding of how novel morphological and biochemical adaptations stimulate ecological interactions in the natural world.
While snake venoms have been the subject of intense study, comparatively little work has been done on lizard venoms. In this study, we have examined the structural and functional diversification of anguimorph lizard venoms and associated toxins, and related these results to dentition and predatory ecology. Venom composition was shown to be highly variable across the 20 species of Heloderma, Lanthanotus, and Varanus included in our study. While kallikrein enzymes were ubiquitous, they were also a particularly multifunctional toxin type, with differential activities on enzyme substrates and also ability to degrade alpha or beta chains of fibrinogen that reflects structural variability. Examination of other toxin types also revealed similar variability in their presence and activity levels. The high level of venom chemistry variation in varanid lizards compared to that of helodermatid lizards suggests that venom may be subject to different selection pressures in these two families. These results not only contribute to our understanding of venom evolution but also reveal anguimorph lizard venoms to be rich sources of novel bioactive molecules with potential as drug design and development lead compounds.
Venoms can deleteriously affect any physiological system reachable by the bloodstream, including directly interfering with the coagulation cascade. Such coagulopathic toxins may be anticoagulants or procoagulants. Snake venoms are unique in their use of procoagulant toxins for predatory purposes. The boomslang (Dispholidus typus) and the twig snakes (Thelotornis species) are iconic African snakes belonging to the family Colubridae. Both species produce strikingly similar lethal procoagulant pathologies. Despite these similarities, antivenom is only produced for treating bites by D. typus, and the mechanisms of action of both venoms have been understudied. In this study, we investigated the venom of D. typus and T. mossambicanus utilising a range of proteomic and bioactivity approaches, including determining the procoagulant properties of both venoms in relation to the human coagulation pathways. In doing so, we developed a novel procoagulant assay, utilising a Stago STA-R Max analyser, to accurately detect real time clotting in plasma at varying concentrations of venom. This approach was used to assess the clotting capabilities of the two venoms both with and without calcium and phospholipid co-factors. We found that T. mossambicanus produced a significantly stronger coagulation response compared to D. typus. Functional enzyme assays showed that T. mossambicanus also exhibited a higher metalloprotease and phospholipase activity but had a much lower serine protease activity relative to D. typus venom. The neutralising capability of the available boomslang antivenom was also investigated on both species, with it being 11.3 times more effective upon D. typus venom than T. mossambicanus. In addition to being a faster clotting venom, T. mossambicanus was revealed to be a much more complex venom composition than D. typus. This is consistent with patterns seen for other snakes with venom complexity linked to dietary complexity. Consistent with the external morphological differences in head shape between the two species, CT and MRI analyses revealed significant internal structural differences in skull architecture and venom gland anatomy. This study increases our understanding of not only the biodiscovery potential of these medically important species but also increases our knowledge of the pathological relationship between venom and the human coagulation cascade.
A paradigm of venom research is adaptive evolution of toxins as part of a predator-prey chemical arms race. This study examined differential co-factor dependence, variations relative to dietary preference, and the impact upon relative neutralisation by antivenom of the procoagulant toxins in the venoms of a clade of Australian snakes. All genera were characterised by venoms rich in factor Xa which act upon endogenous prothrombin. Examination of toxin sequences revealed an extraordinary level of conservation, which indicates that adaptive evolution is not a feature of this toxin type. Consistent with this, the venoms did not display differences on the plasma of different taxa. Examination of the prothrombin target revealed endogenous blood proteins are under extreme negative selection pressure for diversification, this in turn puts a strong negative selection pressure upon the toxins as sequence diversification could result in a drift away from the target. Thus this study reveals that adaptive evolution is not a consistent feature in toxin evolution in cases where the target is under negative selection pressure for diversification. Consistent with this high level of toxin conservation, the antivenom showed extremely high-levels of cross-reactivity. There was however a strong statistical correlation between relative degree of phospholipid-dependence and clotting time, with the least dependent venoms producing faster clotting times than the other venoms even in the presence of phospholipid. The results of this study are not only of interest to evolutionary and ecological disciplines, but also have implications for clinical toxinology.
Pseudechis (black snakes) is an Australasian elapid snake genus that inhabits much of mainland Australia, with two representatives confined to Papua New Guinea. The present study is the first to analyse the venom of all 9 described Pseudechis species (plus one undescribed species) to investigate the evolution of venom composition and functional activity. Proteomic results demonstrated that the typical Pseudechis venom profile is dominated by phospholipase A2 toxins. Strong cytotoxicity was the dominant function for most species. P. porphyriacus, the most basal member of the genus, also exhibited the most divergent venom composition, being the only species with appreciable amounts of procoagulant toxins. The relatively high presence of factor Xa recovered in P. porphyriacus venom may be related to a predominantly amphibian diet. Results of this study provide important insights to guide future ecological and toxinological investigations.
Atractaspis snake species are enigmatic in their natural history, and venom effects are correspondingly poorly described. Bite reports are scarce but bites have been described as causing severe hypertension, profound local tissue damage leading to amputation, and deaths are on record. Clinical descriptions have largely concentrated upon tissue effects, and research efforts have focused upon the blood-pressure affecting sarafotoxins. However, coagulation disturbances suggestive of procoagulant functions have been reported in some clinical cases, yet this aspect has been uninvestigated. We used a suite of assays to investigate the coagulotoxic effects of venoms from six different Atractaspis specimens from central Africa. The procoagulant function of factor X activation was revealed, as was the pseudo-procoagulant function of direct cleavage of fibrinogen into weak clots. The relative neutralization efficacy of South African Antivenom Producer's antivenoms on Atractaspis venoms were boomslang>polyvalent>saw-scaled viper. While the boomslang antivenom was the most effective on Atractaspis venoms, the ability to neutralize the most potent Atractaspis species in this study was up to 4-6 times less effective than boomslang antivenom neutralizes boomslang venom. Therefore, while these results suggest cross-reactivity of boomslang antivenom with the unexpectedly potent coagulotoxic effects of Atractaspis venoms, a considerable amount of this rare antivenom may be needed. This report thus reveals potent venom actions upon blood coagulation that may lead to severe clinical effects with limited management strategies.