Snake venom and its medicinal potential



by LORENZO CIOTTI

Snake venom and its medicinal potential

Snake venom is not a simple substance but a complex combination of many different toxins, with varying functions and quantities. There are 19 known neurotoxins present in the venoms of various snake species around the world.

They are not found all together in the venom of any single species, but on average snake species use 6 to 12 of these substances in their venom. These are enzymes that can be large molecules composed of many dozens of peptides.

In some cases the toxic action on the metabolism is the consequence of the synergistic union of several substances. The immediate effect of the venom, killing or neutralizing the resistance of the prey, is always entrusted to neurotoxic mechanisms; however, the venom of some families of serpents contains also substances which produce other types of toxicity, with a less immediate effect, substances which for the serpent have a pre-digestive function, and which however can be even more dangerous than the neurotoxins.

Venomous snakes are also equipped with a special apparatus for injecting and diffusing the substance into the victim's body, in particular the venom teeth which can be hollow and equipped with internal or externally incised channels.

Among all the families of serpents, the viperids are those endowed with the most evolved venom system. There are two main groups of venomous snakes, or rather considered poisonous in a significant way for humans, namely: the proglyphs and the vipers.

The chemistry of snake venom and its medicinal potential study, published in the Nature reviews. Chemistry, explained: "The fascination and fear of snakes dates back to time immemorial, with the first scientific treatise on snakebite envenoming, the Brooklyn Medical Papyrus, dating from ancient Egypt.

Owing to their lethality, snakes have often been associated with images of perfidy, treachery and death However, snakes did not always have such negative connotations.The curative capacity of venom has been known since antiquity, also making the snake a symbol of pharmacy and medicine.

Today, there is renewed interest in pursuing snake-venom-based therapies.This Review focuses on the chemistry of snake venom and the potential for venom to be exploited for medicinal purposes in the development of drugs.The mixture of toxins that constitute snake venom is examined, focusing on the molecular structure, chemical reactivity and target recognition of the most bioactive toxins, from which bioactive drugs might be developed.

The design and working mechanisms of snake-venom-derived drugs are illustrated, and the strategies by which toxins are transformed into therapeutics are analysed. Finally, the challenges in realizing the immense curative potential of snake venom are discussed, and chemical strategies by which a plethora of new drugs could be derived from snake venom are proposed."