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Concept: Scorpion


During evolution, nature has embraced different strategies for species to survive. One strategy, applied by predators as diverse as snakes, scorpions, sea anemones and cone snails, is using venom to immobilize or kill a prey. This venom offers a unique and extensive source of chemical diversity as it is driven by the evolutionary pressure to improve prey capture and/or to protect their species. Cone snail venom is an example of the remarkable diversity in pharmacologically active small peptides that venoms can consist of. These venom peptides, called conopeptides, are classified into two main groups based on the number of cysteine residues, namely disulfide-rich and disulfide-poor conopeptides. Since disulfide-poor conotoxins are minor components of this venom cocktail, the number of identified peptides and the characterization of these peptides is far outclassed by its cysteine-rich equivalents. This review provides an overview of 12 families of disulfide-poor peptides identified to date as well as the state of affairs.

Concepts: Evolution, Species, Venom, Scorpion, Conus, Conidae, Radula, Conoidea


Fibroblast-like synoviocytes (FLS) are a key cell-type involved in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) progression. We previously identified the KCa1.1 potassium channel (Maxi-K, BK, Slo 1, KCNMA1) as a regulator of FLS and that KCa1.1 inhibition reduces disease severity in RA animal models. However, systemic KCa1.1 block causes multiple side effects and in this study, we aimed to determine whether the KCa1.1 β1-3-specific venom peptide blocker iberiotoxin (IbTX) reduces disease severity in animal models of RA without inducing major side effects. We used immunohistochemistry to identify IbTX-sensitive KCa1.1 subunits in joints of rats with a model of RA. Patch clamp and functional assays were used to determine if IbTX can regulate FLS through targeting KCa1.1. We then tested the efficacy of IbTX in ameliorating disease in two rat models of RA. Finally, we determined if IbTX causes side-effects including incontinence or tremors in rats, compared to those treated with the small molecule KCa1.1 blocker paxilline. IbTX-sensitive subunits of KCa1.1 are expressed by FLS in joints of rats with experimental arthritis. IbTX inhibits KCa1.1 channels expressed by FLS from patients with RA and by FLS from rat models of RA and reduces FLS invasiveness. IbTX significantly reduces disease severity in two rat models of RA. Unlike paxilline, IbTX does not induce tremors or incontinence in rats. Overall, IbTX inhibits KCa1.1 channels on FLS and treats rat models of RA without inducing side effects associated with non-specific KCa1.1 blockade and could become the basis for the development of a new treatment for RA.

Concepts: Protein, Rheumatoid arthritis, Rheumatology, Ion channel, Osteoarthritis, Enzyme inhibitor, Arthritis, Scorpion


Venomous animals have evolved with sophisticated bio-chemical strategies to arrest prey and defend themselves from natural predators. In recent years, peptide toxins from venomous animals have drawn considerable attention from researchers due to their surprising chemical, biochemical, and pharmacological diversity. Similar to other venomous animals, centipedes are one of the crucial venomous arthropods that have been used in traditional medicine for hundreds of years in China. Despite signifying pharmacological importance, very little is known about the active components of centipede venoms. More than 500 peptide sequences have been reported in centipede venomous glands by transcriptome analysis, but only a small number of peptide toxins from centipede has been functionally described. Like other venomous animals such as snakes, scorpions, and spiders, the venom of centipedes could be an excellent source of peptides for developing drugs for treatments as well as bio-insecticides for agrochemical applications. Although centipede venoms are yet to be adequately studied, the venom of centipedes as well as their components described to date, should be compiled to help further research. Therefore, based on previous reports, this review focusses on findings and possible therapeutic applications of centipede venoms as well as their components.

Concepts: Fish, Arthropod, Toxin, Venom, Scorpion, Snake, Apitoxin, Spider bite


Centipedes are among the oldest extant venomous predators on the planet. Armed with a pair of modified, venom-bearing limbs, they are an important group of predatory arthropods and are infamous for their ability to deliver painful stings. Despite this, very little is known about centipede venom and its composition. Advances in analytical tools, however, have recently provided the first detailed insights into the composition and evolution of centipede venoms. This has revealed that centipede venom proteins are highly diverse, with 61 phylogenetically distinct venom protein and peptide families. A number of these have been convergently recruited into the venoms of other animals, providing valuable information on potential underlying causes of the occasionally serious complications arising from human centipede envenomations. However, the majority of venom protein and peptide families bear no resemblance to any characterised protein or peptide family, highlighting the novelty of centipede venoms. This review highlights recent discoveries and summarises the current state of knowledge on the fascinating venom system of centipedes.

Concepts: Protein, Protein structure, Centipede, Arthropod, Toxin, Venom, Scorpion, Spider bite


Animal venoms have evolved many times. Venomous species are especially common in three of the four main groups of arthropods (Chelicerata, Myriapoda, Hexapoda), which together represent tens of thousands of species of venomous spiders, scorpions, centipedes and hymenopterans. Surprisingly, despite their great diversity of body plans there is no unambiguous evidence that any crustacean is venomous. We provide the first conclusive evidence that the aquatic, blind and cave-dwelling remipede crustaceans are venomous, and that venoms evolved in all four major arthropod groups. We produced a three-dimensional reconstruction of the venom delivery apparatus of the remipede Speleonectes tulumensis, showing that remipedes can inject venom in a controlled manner. A transcriptomic profile of its venom glands shows that they express a unique cocktail of transcripts coding for known venom toxins, including a diversity of enzymes and a probable paralytic neurotoxin very similar to one described from spider venom. We screened a transcriptomic library obtained from whole animals and identified a non-toxin paralogue of the remipede neurotoxin that is not expressed in the venom glands. This allowed us to reconstruct its probable evolutionary origin, and underlines the importance of incorporating data derived from non-venom gland tissue to elucidate the evolution of candidate venom proteins. This first glimpse into the venom of a crustacean and primitively aquatic arthropod reveals conspicuous differences from the venoms of other predatory arthropods such as centipedes, scorpions and spiders, and contributes valuable information for ultimately disentangling the many factors shaping the biology and evolution of venoms and venomous species.

Concepts: Insect, Arthropod, Toxin, Spider, Venom, Scorpion, Chelicerata, Spider bite


The assassin bug venom system plays diverse roles in prey capture, defence and extra-oral digestion, but it is poorly characterised, partly due to its anatomical complexity. Here we demonstrate that this complexity results from numerous adaptations that enable assassin bugs to modulate the composition of their venom in a context-dependent manner. Gland reconstructions from multimodal imaging reveal three distinct venom gland lumens: the anterior main gland (AMG); posterior main gland (PMG); and accessory gland (AG). Transcriptomic and proteomic experiments demonstrate that the AMG and PMG produce and accumulate distinct sets of venom proteins and peptides. PMG venom, which can be elicited by electrostimulation, potently paralyses and kills prey insects. In contrast, AMG venom elicited by harassment does not paralyse prey insects, suggesting a defensive role. Our data suggest that assassin bugs produce offensive and defensive venoms in anatomically distinct glands, an evolutionary adaptation that, to our knowledge, has not been described for any other venomous animal.

Concepts: Evolution, Gland, Hemiptera, Toxin, Caterpillar, Venom, Scorpion, Spider bite


Morphology can be adaptive through its effect on performance of an organism. The effect of performance may, however, be modulated by behavior; an organism may choose a behavioral option that does not fully utilize its maximum performance. Behavior may therefore be decoupled from morphology and performance. To gain insight into the relationships between these levels of organization, we combined morphological data on defensive structures with measures of defensive performance, and their utilization in defensive behavior. Scorpion species show significant variation in the morphology and performance of their main defensive structures; their chelae (pincers) and the metasoma (“tail”) carrying the stinger. Our data show that size-corrected pinch force varies to almost two orders of magnitude among species, and is correlated with chela morphology. Chela and metasoma morphology are also correlated to the LD50 of the venom, corroborating the anecdotal rule that dangerously venomous scorpions can be recognized by their chelae and metasoma. Analyses of phylogenetic independent contrasts show that correlations between several aspects of chela and metasoma morphology, performance and behavior are present. These correlations suggest co-evolution of behavior with morphology and performance. Path analysis found a performance variable (pinch force) to partially mediate the relationship between morphology (chela aspect ratio) and behavior (defensive stinger usage). We also found a correlation between two aspects of morphology: pincer finger length correlates with the relative “thickness” (aspect ratio) of the metasoma. This suggests scorpions show a trade-off between their two main weapon complexes: the metasoma carrying the stinger, and the pedipalps carrying the chelae.

Concepts: Species, Correlation and dependence, Aspect ratio, Venom, Scorpion


Autotomy, the voluntary shedding or detachment of a body part at a determined cleavage plane, is a common anti-predation defense mechanism in several animal taxa, including arthropods. Among arachnids, autotomy has been observed in harvestmen, mites, and spiders, always involving the loss of legs. Autotomy of the opisthosoma (abdomen) was recently reported in a single species of the Neotropical buthid scorpion genus Ananteris Thorell, 1891, but few details were revealed. Based on observations in the field and laboratory, examination of material in museum collections, and scanning electron microscopy, we document autotomy of the metasoma (the hind part of the opisthosoma, or ‘tail’) in fourteen species of Ananteris. Autotomy is more common in males than females, and has not been observed in juveniles. When the scorpion is held by the metasoma, it is voluntarily severed at the joints between metasomal segments I and II, II and III, or III and IV, allowing the scorpion to escape. After detachment, the severed metasoma moves (twitches) automatically, much like the severed tail of a lizard or the severed leg of a spider, and reacts to contact, even attempting to sting. The severed surface heals rapidly, scar tissue forming in five days. The lost metasomal segments and telson cannot be regenerated. Autotomy of the metasoma and telson results in permanent loss of the posterior part of the scorpion’s digestive system (the anus is situated posteriorly on metasomal segment V) and the ability to inject venom by stinging. After autotomy, scorpions do not defecate and can only capture small prey items. However, males can survive and mate successfully for up to eight months in the laboratory. In spite of diminished predation ability after autotomy, survival allows males to reproduce. Autotomy in Ananteris therefore appears to be an effective, adaptive, anti-predation escape mechanism.

Concepts: Arthropod, Predation, Arachnid, Spider, Animal anatomy, Scorpion, Chelicerata, Buthidae


In the Southwestern United States, the venom of the scorpion Centruroides sculpturatus (common name bark scorpion) can cause serious and potentially fatal neurotoxicity, with young children most vulnerable to its effects. Historically, advances in the quality of supportive care have made significant improvements in morbidity and mortality. In recent years, the development of effective antivenom therapies has changed the landscape of caring for these patients. This article reviews the background, pathophysiology, diagnosis, and treatment options for C. sculpturatus envenomation. Recent advances in immunotherapy and subsequent implications for pediatric emergency care providers are discussed.

Concepts: Medicine, United States, Venom, Scorpion, Medical error, Buthidae, Centruroides exilicauda, Mac Gargan


Animal venoms are complex chemical mixtures that typically contain hundreds of proteins and non-proteinaceous compounds, resulting in a potent weapon for prey immobilization and predator deterrence. However, because venoms are protein-rich, they come with a high metabolic price tag. The metabolic cost of venom is sufficiently high to result in secondary loss of venom whenever its use becomes non-essential to survival of the animal. The high metabolic cost of venom leads to the prediction that venomous animals may have evolved strategies for minimizing venom expenditure. Indeed, various behaviors have been identified that appear consistent with frugality of venom use. This has led to formulation of the “venom optimization hypothesis” (Wigger et al. (2002) Toxicon 40, 749-752), also known as “venom metering”, which postulates that venom is metabolically expensive and therefore used frugally through behavioral control. Here, we review the available data concerning economy of venom use by animals with either ancient or more recently evolved venom systems. We conclude that the convergent nature of the evidence in multiple taxa strongly suggests the existence of evolutionary pressures favoring frugal use of venom. However, there remains an unresolved dichotomy between this economy of venom use and the lavish biochemical complexity of venom, which includes a high degree of functional redundancy. We discuss the evidence for biochemical optimization of venom as a means of resolving this conundrum.

Concepts: Metabolism, Fish, Economics, Cost, Toxin, Venom, Scorpion, Spider bite