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Concept: King Cobra


Snake envenomation is a serious public health threat in the rural areas of Asian and African countries. To date, the only proven treatment for snake envenomation is antivenom therapy. Cross-neutralization of heterologous venoms by antivenom raised against venoms of closely related species has been reported. The present study examined the cross neutralizing potential of a newly developed polyvalent antivenom, termed Neuro Polyvalent Snake Antivenom (NPAV). NPAV was produced by immunization against 4 Thai elapid venoms.

Concepts: Africa, Squamata, Venom, Snake, Antivenom, Elapidae, King Cobra, Bungarus


The cytotoxicity of the venom of 25 species of Old World elapid snake was tested and compared with the morphological and behavioural adaptations of hooding and spitting. We determined that, contrary to previous assumptions, the venoms of spitting species are not consistently more cytotoxic than those of closely related non-spitting species. While this correlation between spitting and non-spitting was found among African cobras, it was not present among Asian cobras. On the other hand, a consistent positive correlation was observed between cytotoxicity and utilisation of the defensive hooding display that cobras are famous for. Hooding and spitting are widely regarded as defensive adaptations, but it has hitherto been uncertain whether cytotoxicity serves a defensive purpose or is somehow useful in prey subjugation. The results of this study suggest that cytotoxicity evolved primarily as a defensive innovation and that it has co-evolved twice alongside hooding behavior: once in the Hemachatus + Naja and again independently in the king cobras (Ophiophagus). There was a significant increase of cytotoxicity in the Asian Naja linked to the evolution of bold aposematic hood markings, reinforcing the link between hooding and the evolution of defensive cytotoxic venoms. In parallel, lineages with increased cytotoxicity but lacking bold hood patterns evolved aposematic markers in the form of high contrast body banding. The results also indicate that, secondary to the evolution of venom rich in cytotoxins, spitting has evolved three times independently: once within the African Naja, once within the Asian Naja, and once in the Hemachatus genus. The evolution of cytotoxic venom thus appears to facilitate the evolution of defensive spitting behaviour. In contrast, a secondary loss of cytotoxicity and reduction of the hood occurred in the water cobra Naja annulata, which possesses streamlined neurotoxic venom similar to that of other aquatic elapid snakes (e.g., hydrophiine sea snakes). The results of this study make an important contribution to our growing understanding of the selection pressures shaping the evolution of snake venom and its constituent toxins. The data also aid in elucidating the relationship between these selection pressures and the medical impact of human snakebite in the developing world, as cytotoxic cobras cause considerable morbidity including loss-of-function injuries that result in economic and social burdens in the tropics of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Concepts: Natural selection, Africa, Cytotoxicity, Snake, Elapidae, King Cobra, Naja, Cobra


Cross-neutralisation has been demonstrated for haemorrhagic venoms including Echis spp. and Cerastes spp. and for Australia elapid procoagulant toxins. A previous study showed that commercial tiger snake antivenom (TSAV) was able to neutralise the systemic effects of the Egyptian cobra, Naja haje, in vivo but it is unclear if this was true cross-neutralisation. The aim of the current study was to determine whether TSAV can neutralise the in vitro neurotoxic effects of N. haje venom. Both Notechis scutatus (10 μg/ml) and N. haje (10 μg/ml) venoms caused inhibition of indirect (supramaximal V, 0.1 Hz, 0.2 msec.) twitches of the chick biventer cervicis nerve-muscle preparation with t(90) values (i.e. the time to produce 90% inhibition of the original twitch height) of 26 ± 1 min. (n = 4) and 36 ± 4 min.; (n = 4). This effect at 10 μg/ml was significantly attenuated by the prior addition of TSAV (5 U/ml). A comparison of the reverse-phase HPLC profiles of both venoms showed some similarities with peak elution times, and SDS-PAGE analysis elucidated comparable bands across both venoms. Further analysis using Western immunoblotting indicated TSAV was able to detect N. haje venom, and enzyme immunoassay showed that in-house biotinylated polyclonal monovalent N. scutatus antibodies were able to detect N. haje venom. These findings demonstrate cross-neutralisation between different and geographically separated snakes supporting potential immunological similarities in snake toxin groups for a large range of snakes. This provides more evidence that antivenoms could be developed against specific toxin groups to cover a large range of snakes.

Concepts: Toxin, Venom, Snake, Antivenom, Neurotoxin, Elapidae, King Cobra, Tiger snake


Snakebite envenomation is a serious medical problem in many tropical developing countries and was considered by WHO as a neglected tropical disease. Antivenom (AV), the rational and most effective treatment modality, is either unaffordable and/or unavailable in many affected countries. Moreover, each AV is specific to only one (monospecific) or a few (polyspecific) snake venoms. This demands that each country to prepare AV against its local snake venoms, which is often not feasible. Preparation of a ‘pan-specific’ AV against many snakes over a wide geographical area in some countries/regions has not been possible. If a ‘pan-specific’ AV effective against a variety of snakes from many countries could be prepared, it could be produced economically in large volume for use in many countries and save many lives. The aim of this study was to produce a pan-specific antiserum effective against major medically important elapids in Asia. The strategy was to use toxin fractions (TFs) of the venoms in place of crude venoms in order to reduce the number of antigens the horses were exposed to. This enabled inclusion of a greater variety of elapid venoms in the immunogen mix, thus exposing the horse immune system to a diverse repertoire of toxin epitopes, and gave rise to antiserum with wide paraspecificity against elapid venoms. Twelve venom samples from six medically important elapid snakes (4 Naja spp. and 2 Bungarus spp.) were collected from 12 regions/countries in Asia. Nine of these 12 venoms were ultra-filtered to remove high molecular weight, non-toxic and highly immunogenic proteins. The remaining 3 venoms were not ultra-filtered due to limited amounts available. The 9 toxin fractions (TFs) together with the 3 crude venoms were emulsified in complete Freund’s adjuvant and used to immunize 3 horses using a low dose, low volume, multisite immunization protocol. The horse antisera were assayed by ELISA and by in vivo lethality neutralization in mice. The findings were: a) The 9 TFs were shown to contain all of the venom toxins but were devoid of high MW proteins. When these TFs, together with the 3 crude venoms, were used as the immunogen, satisfactory ELISA antibody titers against homologous/heterologous venoms were obtained. b) The horse antiserum immunologically reacted with and neutralized the lethal effects of both the homologous and the 16 heterologous Asian/African elapid venoms tested. Thus, the use of TFs in place of crude venoms and the inclusion of a variety of elapid venoms in the immunogen mix resulted in antiserum with wide paraspecificity against elapid venoms from distant geographic areas. The antivenom prepared from this antiserum would be expected to be pan-specific and effective in treating envenomations by most elapids in many Asian countries. Due to economies of scale, the antivenom could be produced inexpensively and save many lives. This simple strategy and procedure could be readily adapted for the production of pan-specific antisera against elapids of other continents.

Concepts: Immune system, Antibody, Toxin, Venom, Snake, Elapidae, King Cobra, Bungarus


Characterizing whole proteins by top-down proteomics avoids a step of inference encountered in the dominant bottom-up methodology when peptides are assembled computationally into proteins for identification. The direct interrogation of whole proteins and protein complexes from the venom of Ophiophagus hannah (king cobra) provides a sharply clarified view of toxin sequence variation, transit peptide cleavage sites and post-translational modifications (PTMs) likely critical for venom lethality. A tube-gel format for electrophoresis (called GELFrEE) and solution isoelectric focusing were used for protein fractionation prior to LC-MS/MS analysis resulting in 131 protein identifications (18 more than bottom-up) and a total of 184 proteoforms characterized from 14 protein toxin families. Operating both GELFrEE and mass spectrometry to preserve non-covalent interactions generated detailed information about two of the largest venom glycoprotein complexes: the homodimeric L-amino acid oxidase (LAAO, ~130 kDa) and the multi-chain toxin cobra venom factor (~147 kDa). The LAAO complex exhibited two clusters of multi-proteoform complexes corresponding to the presence of 5 or 6 N-glycans moieties, each consistent with a distribution of N-acetyl hexosamines. Employing top-down proteomics in both native and denaturing modes provides unprecedented characterization of venom proteoforms and their complexes. A precise molecular inventory of venom proteins will propel the study of snake toxin variation and the targeted development of new anti-venoms or other biotherapeutics.

Concepts: Protein, Amino acid, Mass spectrometry, Peptide, Proteomics, Isoelectric point, Snake, King Cobra


Diagnosis of snake envenomation is challenging but critical for deciding on antivenom use. Phospholipase A2 enzymes occur commonly in snake venoms and we hypothesized that phospholipase activity detected in human blood post-bite may be indicative of envenomation. Using a simple assay, potentially a bedside test, we detected high phospholipase activity in sera of patients with viper and elapid envenomation compared to minimal activity in non-envenomed patients.

Concepts: Phospholipase A2, PH, Squamata, Viperidae, Venom, Snake, Antivenom, King Cobra


In Southeast Asia, envenoming resulting from cobra snakebites is an important public health issue in many regions, and antivenom therapy is the standard treatment for the snakebite. Because these cobras share a close evolutionary history, the amino acid sequences of major venom components in different snakes are very similar. Therefore, either monovalent or polyvalent antivenoms may offer paraspecific protection against envenomation of humans by several different snakes. In Taiwan, a bivalent antivenom-freeze-dried neurotoxic antivenom (FNAV)-against Bungarus multicinctus and Naja atra is available. However, whether this antivenom is also capable of neutralizing the venom of other species of snakes is not known. Here, to expand the clinical application of Taiwanese FNAV, we used an animal model to evaluate the neutralizing ability of FNAV against the venoms of three common snakes in Southeast Asia, including two ‘true’ cobras Naja kaouthia (Thailand) and Naja siamensis (Thailand), and the king cobra Ophiophagus hannah (Indonesia). We further applied mass spectrometry (MS)-based proteomic techniques to characterize venom proteomes and identify FNAV-recognizable antigens in the venoms of these Asian snakes. Neutralization assays in a mouse model showed that FNAV effectively neutralized the lethality of N. kaouthia and N. siamensis venoms, but not O. hannah venom. MS-based venom protein identification results further revealed that FNAV strongly recognized three-finger toxin and phospholipase A2, the major protein components of N. kaouthia and N. siamensis venoms. The characterization of venom proteomes and identification of FNAV-recognizable venom antigens may help researchers to further develop more effective antivenom designed to block the toxicity of dominant toxic proteins, with the ultimate goal of achieving broadly therapeutic effects against these cobra snakebites.

Concepts: Protein, Amino acid, Venom, Snake, Antivenom, Elapidae, King Cobra, Naja


Envenomation by hemotoxic enzymes continues to be a major cause of morbidity and mortality throughout the world. With regard to treatment, the gold standard to abrogate coagulopathy caused by these venoms is still the administration of antivenom; however, despite antivenom therapy, coagulopathy still occurs and recurs. Of interest, this laboratory has demonstrated in vitro and in vivo that coagulopathy inducing venom derived from snakes of the family Viperidae exposed to carbon monoxide (CO) is inhibited, potentially by an attached heme. The present investigation sought to determine if venoms derived from snakes of the Elapidae family (taipans and cobras) could also be inhibited with CO or with the metheme inducing agent, O-phenylhydroxylamine (PHA). Assessing changes in coagulation kinetics of human plasma with thrombelastography, venoms from Elapidae snakes were exposed in isolation to CO (five species) or PHA (one specie) and placed in human plasma to assess changes in procoagulant or anticoagulant activity. The procoagulant activity of two taipan venoms and anticoagulant activity of three cobra venoms were significantly inhibited by CO. The venom of the inland taipan was also inhibited by PHA. In sum, these data demonstrate indirectly that the biometal heme is likely bound to these disparate venoms as an intermediary modulatory molecule. In conclusion, CO may not just be a potential therapeutic agent to treat envenomation but also may be a potential modulator of heme as a protective mechanism for venomous snakes against injury from their own proteolytic venoms.

Concepts: Squamata, Viperidae, Toxin, Venom, Snake, Antivenom, King Cobra, Taipan


Practical relevance: No fewer than 140 species of terrestrial snakes reside in Australia, 92 of which possess venom glands. With the exception of the brown tree snake, the venom-producing snakes belong to the family Elapidae. The venom of a number of elapid species is more toxic than that of the Indian cobra and eastern diamondback rattle snake, which has earned Australia its reputation for being home to the world’s most venomous snakes. Clinical challenges: The diagnosis of elapid snake envenomation is not always easy. Identification of Australian snakes is not straightforward and there are no pathognomonic clinical signs. In cats, diagnosis of envenomation is confounded by the fact that, in most cases, there is a delay in seeking veterinary attention, probably because snake encounters are not usually witnessed by owners, and also because of the tendency of cats to hide and seek seclusion when unwell. Although the administration of antivenom is associated with improved outcomes, the snake venom detection kit and antivenom are expensive and so their use may be precluded if there are financial constraints. Evidence base: In providing comprehensive guidance on the diagnosis and treatment of Australian elapid snake envenomation in cats, the authors of this review draw on the published veterinary, medical and toxicology literature, as well as their professional experience as specialists in medicine, and emergency medicine and critical care.

Concepts: Australia, Viperidae, Venom, Snake, Antivenom, Elapidae, King Cobra, Bungarus


This report describes the diagnosis and treatment of 16 confirmed cases of snakebite from the Australian eastern brown snake (Pseudonaja textilis) in dogs and cats. The clinical signs, brown snake venom antigen concentrations, coagulation parameters, and treatment outcomes following administration of an experimental caprylic acid fractionated bivalent whole IgG antivenom are documented. A brown snake venom antigen specific sandwich ELISA was used to retrospectively quantify venom levels in serum and urine. The characteristic clinical signs of envenomation in all cases were neurotoxicity to a variable extent and coagulation disturbances. The median serum venom concentration at presentation was 122 ng/mL and ranged from 1.9 to 3607 ng/mL. The median urine venom concentration at presentation was 55 ng/mL and ranged from 3.3 to 2604 ng/mL. Mechanical ventilation was used to successfully support respiration in three severely paralysed cases for 1-30 h. In four cases where serum samples were available post-antivenom treatment, venom was no longer detectable. Coagulation parameters measured on citrated plasma samples collected prior to antivenom from each case were abnormally prolonged to variable degrees in all cases. Three cases (2 dogs; 1 cat) were euthanized within four hours of presentation for either cost based reasons (2) or poor prognosis (1). One dog developed massive and potentially fatal pulmonary haemorrhage and was euthanazed. In vitro testing of the venom procoagulant neutralising efficacy of the experimental antivenom demonstrated it was 9.6-72 times more effective when compared to two other commercial veterinary antivenom products. This is the first detailed report of a case series of P. textilis envenomation in dogs and cats. The envenomation syndrome in dogs and cats differed to that reported humans, dominated by neurotoxicity and coagulopathy; unlike in humans, where coagulopathy is of primary clinical significance.

Concepts: Blood, Concentration, In vitro, Case, Viperidae, Venom, King Cobra, Pseudonaja