Black Mamba’s venom as a source for painkillers

pic1     as seen in the picture the snake got it’s name from the colour of it’s inside of the                                                              mouth(which is black in colour)

The Black Mamba, one of the Africa’s most feared and respected snakes, inevitably evokes reactions of fear, respect or owe – often merely being mentioned. If one recalls reading “Mountain of the Moon” one might actually recall the Goosebumps they had while reading part featuring the Black Mamba. It definitely is one of the most venomous snakes on the Planet. But despite the serious threat it imposes, it actually is not social and also not territorial. It actually avoids human beings and populated territories and likes to stay undisturbed. The snake is not at all aggressive and will do anything in its power to head away from humans rather than attack. It is only when it feels that escape is not possible, that it gets ready to strike. It is most dangerous when it feels that its life is being threatened and it then defends itself to the maximum. And what’s the weapon of greatest weapon of it’s arsenal? It is the venom.

Black Mamba Venom is highly toxic. Two drops of venom can kill a person. The venom contains both neurotoxins and cardio toxins. The first affects the nervous system, while the latter attacks the heart. The bite’s initial symptoms include slight swelling, bitter pain or burning sensation, loss of control of jaw, tongue and slurred speech, blurred vision, drowsiness, paralysis of all muscle groups and mental confusion.

A neurotoxin, isolated from the venom, is Calciseptine. I’ll briefly discuss its way action too. Passage of various ions across different membranes is controlled by various channels. One of such channels is Voltage-dependent Calcium channels, which are responsible for coupling of nerve excitation and neurotransmitter secretion in Neurons(N-type Ca2+ Channels) andcoupling of nerve excitation and muscle contraction in smooth and cardiac muscles(L-type Ca2+ Channels). Calciseptine acts as a blocker of L-type Ca2+ Channels thus inhibiting muscular contraction, which might eventually lead to paralysis.

Now, here comes something that’s mind blowing and amazing about Black Mamba. Black Mamba’s venom is potentially a “better painkiller” than morphine. Tests on mice have shown that the Black Mamba venom also contains a potent painkiller. When tested in mice, according to researchers, the effects of analgesia(the inability to feel pain) were as strong as morphine, without most of the side effects. Morphine has the ability to cut pain but has side effects like headache, difficulty in thinking, vomiting and muscle twitching and is also effective. Mambalgins (the pain-killing proteins present in the venom) tackle pain in a completely different route than morphine and its suppose to cause fewer side effects.

Now, a bit about how it reliefs pain. Acid Sensing Ion Channels (ASICs) are principal players in the pain sensing pathway in humans. A snake toxin activates the peripheral ASICs in the nociceptive neurons(a sensory neuron that responds to damaging or potentially damaging stimuli by sending “possible threat” signals to the spinal cord and the brain) to invoke pain. Mambalgins are a class of three-finger peptides and inhibit pain by inhibition of ASICs in the central or peripheral neurons. Blockade of heteromeric channels made of ASIC1a and ASIC2a subunits in central neurons and of ASIC1b-containing channels in nociceptors is involved in the analgesic effect of mambalgins.

These findings identify new potential therapeutic targets (biological target, a protein or nucleic acid whose activity can be modified by an external stimulus) for pain and introduce natural peptides that block them to produce a potent analgesia.

So, the Black Mamba turns out to be a very interesting creature. Even if we don’t consider its behaviour and lifestyle, which are, of course, interesting, the Black Mamba is fascinating anyway. Despite the lethal threat it can impose on one’s life, it can actually be a source of relief(caused, of course, by the painkillers it provides).I guess that’s just another instance where we see the manifestation of “Every coin has two sides”, in Nature.



Arindam Tarafdar

IISER Bhopal


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