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Concept: Black widow spider

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Black widow spiders (members of the genus Latrodectus) are widely feared because of their potent neurotoxic venom. α-Latrotoxin is the vertebrate-specific toxin responsible for the dramatic effects of black widow envenomation. The evolution of this toxin is enigmatic because only two α-latrotoxin sequences are known. In this study, ~4 kb α-latrotoxin sequences and their homologs were characterized from a diversity of Latrodectus species, and representatives of Steatoda and Parasteatoda, establishing the wide distribution of latrotoxins across the mega-diverse spider family Theridiidae. Across black widow species, α-latrotoxin shows ≥ 94% nucleotide identity and variability consistent with purifying selection. Multiple codon and branch-specific estimates of the nonsynonymous/ synonymous substitution rate ratio also suggest a long history of purifying selection has acted on α-latrotoxin across Latrodectus and Steatoda. However, α-latrotoxin is highly divergent in amino acid sequence between these genera, with 68.7% of protein differences involving non-conservative substitutions, evidence for positive selection on its physiochemical properties and particular codons, and an elevated rate of nonsynonymous substitutions along α-latrotoxin’s Latrodectus branch. Such variation likely explains the efficacy of red-back spider, L. hasselti, antivenom in treating bites from other Latrodectus species, and the weaker neurotoxic symptoms associated with Steatoda and Parasteatoda bites. Long-term purifying selection on α-latrotoxin indicates its functional importance in black widow venom, even though vertebrates are a small fraction of their diet. The greater differences between Latrodectus and Steatoda α-latrotoxin, and their relationships to invertebrate-specific latrotoxins, suggest a shift in α-latrotoxin towards increased vertebrate toxicity coincident with the evolution of widow spiders.

Concepts: Toxin, Spider, Spider bite, Black Widow, Latrodectus, Katipo, Black widow spider, Redback spider

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Black widow spiders are infamous for their neurotoxic venom, which can cause extreme and long-lasting pain. This unusual venom is dominated by latrotoxins and latrodectins, two protein families virtually unknown outside of the black widow genus Latrodectus, that are difficult to study given the paucity of spider genomes. Using tissue-, sex- and stage-specific expression data, we analyzed the recently sequenced genome of the house spider (Parasteatoda tepidariorum), a close relative of black widows, to investigate latrotoxin and latrodectin diversity, expression and evolution.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Molecular biology, Virus, Insect, Spider bite, Black Widow, Black widow spider

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This paper presents two newly established species for French Polynesia: the invasive brown widow spider, Latrodectus geometricus C. L. Koch, and its potential biocontrol agent, the parasitoid wasp, Philolema latrodecti (Fullaway). The brown widow spider was recorded from the island of Moorea in 2006 and, since that discovery, the occurrence of this species has expanded to two of the five archipelagos of French Polynesia including the main island of Tahiti and four of the Cook Islands. Although the tropical climate contributes to the establishment of L. geometricus, a biotic factor, P. latrodecti, may restrain population from demographic explosion. This eurytomid wasp is present in French Polynesia and is a parasitoid that has been used in biological control of the southern black widow Latrodectus mactans (F.) in Hawaii. This wasp could become a significant limiting factor for L. geometricus distribution on these islands, as it was found in 31% of the Tahitian brown widow spider egg sacs that were dissected. However, thus far, the wasp was only found on Tahiti in association with the brown widow spider. Although the brown widow is generally considered to be less toxic than its black widow relatives, it remains of medical concern in French Polynesia because reactions to its bites can, at times, be severe. The spider remains of public concern because it is a novel species; it has the word widow in its name and dark morphs are mistaken as black widows.

Concepts: Insect, Pacific Ocean, French Polynesia, Polynesia, Latrodectus, Black widow spider, Latrodectus mactans, Latrodectus geometricus

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Black widow spiders contain toxic components not only in the venom glands but also in other parts of the spider body, including the legs and abdomen. Additionally, both the eggs and newborn spiderlings of the black widow spider contain venom. It is important to investigate their potential effects on cancer cells. In the present study, the effects of newborn black widow spiderling extract on human HeLa cells were evaluated in vitro. When applied at different concentrations, the total extract decreased HeLa cell viability in a dose-dependent manner, with an IC50 value of 158 µg/ml. Flow cytometry indicated that treatment of HeLa cells with the total extract of the spiderlings induced apoptosis in HeLa cells in a dose-dependent manner and led to cell cycle arrest in the S-phase. Additionally, application of the total extract at different concentrations increased apoptosis-related caspase 3 activity in a dose-dependent manner. HeLa cells treated with the total extract appeared to be morphologically changed, exhibiting membrane blebbing, nuclear fragmentation and condensation of chromatin. Further separation and activity screening demonstrated that the cytotoxic and apoptotic activities of the total extract were attributable mainly to its high molecular mass proteins, one of which was purified and characterized to determine its anti-tumor activities on HeLa cells. The results of the present study therefore have expanded understanding regarding the effect of spider toxins on cancer cells and suggested that components of black widow spiderlings may be developed as a promising novel agent to treat cancer.

Concepts: Cancer, Chromosome, Apoptosis, Cell culture, Cell cycle, Spider bite, Black Widow, Black widow spider

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“Black widow” spiders belong to the genus Latrodectus and are one of the few spiders in the world whose bite can cause severe envenomation in humans and domestic animals. In Argentina, these spiders are distributed throughout the country and are responsible for the highest number of bites by spiders of toxicological sanitary interest. Here, we studied the toxicity and some biochemical and immunochemical characteristics of eighteen venom samples from Latrodectus spiders from eight different provinces of Argentina, and the neutralization of some of these samples by two therapeutic antivenoms used in the country for the treatment of envenomation and by a anti-Latrodectus antivenom prepared against the venom of Latrodectus mactans from Mexico. We observed important toxicity in all the samples studied and a variation in the toxicity of samples, even in those from the same region and province and even in the same Latrodectus species from the same region. The therapeutic antivenoms efficiently neutralized all the venoms studied.

Concepts: Toxicology, Toxin, Venom, Region, Spider bite, Province, Black widow spider, Latrodectus mactans

0

During meiosis I, homologous chromosomes join together to form bivalents. Through trial and error, bivalents achieve stable bipolar orientations (attachments) on the spindle that eventually allow the segregation of homologous chromosomes to opposite poles. Bipolar orientations are stable through tension generated by poleward forces to opposite poles. Unipolar orientations lack tension and are stereotypically not stable. The behavior of sex chromosomes during meiosis I in the male black widow spider Latrodectus mactans (Araneae, Theridiidae) challenges the principles governing such a scenario. We found that male L. mactans has two distinct X chromosomes, X1 and X2. The X chromosomes join together to form a connection that is present in prometaphase I but is lost during metaphase I, before the autosomes disjoin at anaphase I. We found that both X chromosomes form stable unipolar orientations to the same pole that assure their co-segregation at anaphase I. Using micromanipulation, immunofluorescence microscopy, and electron microscopy, we studied this unusual chromosome behavior to explain how it may fit the current dogma of chromosome distribution during cell division.

Concepts: Eukaryote, Chromosome, Cell cycle, Mitosis, Meiosis, Gamete, Homologous chromosome, Black widow spider

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Web-building spiders construct their own vibratory signaling environments. Web architecture should affect signal design, and vice versa, such that vibratory signals are transmitted with a minimum of attenuation and degradation. However, the web is the medium through which a spider senses both vibratory signals from courting males and cues produced by captured prey. Moreover, webs function not only in vibration transmission, but also in defense from predators and the elements. These multiple functions may impose conflicting selection pressures on web design. We investigated vibration transmission efficiency and accuracy through two web types with contrasting architectures: sheet webs of Eratigena agrestis (Agelenidae) and tangle webs of Latrodectus hesperus (Theridiidae). We measured vibration transmission efficiencies by playing frequency sweeps through webs with a piezoelectric vibrator and a loudspeaker, recording the resulting web vibrations at several locations on each web using a laser Doppler vibrometer. Transmission efficiencies through both web types were highly variable, with within-web variation greater than among-web variation. There was little difference in transmission efficiencies of longitudinal and transverse vibrations. The inconsistent transmission of specific frequencies through webs suggests that parameters other than frequency are most important in allowing these spiders to distinguish between vibrations of prey and courting males.

Concepts: World Wide Web, Spider bite, Latrodectus, Black widow spider, Latrodectus hesperus

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1.Developmental experience, for example food abundance during juvenile stages, is known to affect life history and behaviour. However, the life history and behavioural consequences of developmental experience have rarely been studied in concert. As a result it is still unclear whether developmental experience affects behaviour through changes in life history, or independently of it. 2.The effect of developmental experience on life history and behaviour may also be masked or affected by individual condition during adulthood. Thus, it is critical to tease apart the effects of developmental experience and current individual condition on life history and behaviour. 3.In this study we manipulated food abundance during development in the western black widow spider, Latrodectus hesperus, by rearing spiders on either a restricted or ad lib diet. We separated developmental from condition dependent effects by assaying adult foraging behaviour (tendency to attack prey and to stay on out of the refuge following an attack) and web structure multiple times under different levels of satiation following different developmental treatments. 4.Spiders reared under food restriction matured slower and at a smaller size than spiders reared in ad lib conditions. Spiders reared on a restricted diet were more aggressive towards prey and built webs structured for prey capture while spiders reared on an ad lib diet were less aggressive and build safer webs. Developmental treatment affected which traits were plastic as adults: restricted spiders built safer webs when their adult condition increased, while ad-lib spiders reduced their aggression when their adult condition increased. The amount of individual variation in behaviour and web structure varied with developmental treatment. Spiders reared on a restricted diet exhibited consistent variation in all aspects of foraging behaviour and web structure, while spiders reared on an ad lib diet exhibited consistent individual variation in aggression and web weight only. 5.Developmental experience affected the average life history, behaviour, and web structure of spiders, but also shaped the amount of phenotypic variation observed among individuals. Surprisingly, developmental experience also determined the particular way in which individuals plastically adjusted their behaviour and web structure to changes in adult condition. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Effect, Affect, Spider bite, Black Widow, Latrodectus, Black widow spider, Latrodectus mactans, Latrodectus hesperus

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Chemical communication is common in spiders but few pheromones have been identified. Female widow spiders in the genus Latrodectus spin webs that disseminate an attractive sex pheromone, and a contact pheromone on the silk elicits courtship behavior by males. The methyl ester of N-3-methylbutanoyl-O-(S)-2-methylbutanoyl-L-serine is a contact pheromone of the Australian redback spider Latrodectus hasselti. We hypothesized that the contact pheromone of congeneric L. hesperus resembles that of L. hasselti. The silk of virgin L. hesperus females was extracted with methanol, and analyses by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC/MS) provided evidence for the presence of N-3-methylbutanoyl-O-methylpropanoyl-L-serine methyl ester (MB-MP-S), a lower homologue of the L. hasselti contact pheromone. Behavioral responses of L. hesperus males to test stimuli were assayed on T-shaped rods with the end sections of the horizontal arm enveloped in filter paper. Males spent 40 % longer in contact with paper bearing female silk than with blank paper, and 39 % longer in contact with paper treated with silk extract than with solvent controls. Contact with silk and silk extract induced courtship behavior by 96 % and 80 % of males, respectively, indicating that there was a methanol-soluble courtship-eliciting contact pheromone on the silk. Males responded less strongly to synthetic MB-MP-S than to silk or silk extract. Paper impregnated with synthetic MB-MP-S (10 or 100 μg) induced courtship behavior in 3-16 % of males, and prompted males to stay 10-16 % longer than on control paper. Our data support the conclusion that MB-MP-S is part of a multi-component contact pheromone of L. hesperus.

Concepts: Insect, Sex, Spider bite, Venomous spiders, Latrodectus, Black widow spider, Redback spider, Latrodectism

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Black widow spider envenomation generally results in self-limiting pain that can be treated in the emergency department (ED) with analgesics and benzodiazepines, usually with no further intervention. Occasionally, a patient has to be admitted or treated with antivenom for refractory pain or a venom-induced complication. We present the case of an 84-year-old man who presented to our ED with chest pain and dyspnea after being bitten on the foot by a western black widow spider (Lactrodectus hesperus). His initial cardiac troponin I (cTnI) was elevated at 0.07 ng/ml and continued to rise to a peak of 0.17 ng/ml. He also had rhabdomyolysis, another uncommon complication of black widow envenomation. An elevated cTnI generally signifies myocardial injury and is rarely seen after black widow envenomation. We discuss the possible etiologies for an elevated cardiac biomarker, in this context, and review potentially serious complications of widow spider envenomation presenting with chest symptoms and an elevated cardiac biomarker.

Concepts: Myocardial infarction, Heart, Troponin, Black Widow, Latrodectus, Black widow spider, Redback spider, Latrodectus hesperus