Molecules from the venom of one of the world’s largest spiders could helpUniversity of Queensland-led researchers tailor pain blockers for people withirritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Researchers screened 28 spiders, with the venom of the Venezuelan PinkfootGoliath tarantula – which has a leg-span of up to 30 centimetres – showing themost promise.

The team led by Professor Richard Lewis from UQ’s Institute for MolecularBioscience in collaboration with Flinders University’s Professor StuartBrierley and the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute hopesto find effective pain relief for chronic intestinal pain.

“All pains are complex but gut pain is particularly challenging to treat, andaffects around 20 per cent of the world’s population,” Professor Lewis said.

“Current drugs are failing to produce effective pain relief in many patientsbefore side effects limit the dose that can be administered.”

Professor Brierley said IBS and other gastrointestinal and bladder disorderscause chronic visceral pain – pain which affects the internal organs.

“Internal organs have a complex network of sensory nerves that have a widearray of voltage-gated ion channels and receptors to detect stimuli,” he said.

“The hypersensitivity of these nerves in disease often contributes to thedevelopment of pain.”

Voltage-gated ion channels open and close in response to changes across thecell membrane, with their dysfunction identified as a cause of chronicvisceral pain.

Professor Lewis said spider venoms contain hundreds of mini-proteins known aspeptides that can inhibit voltage-gated ion channels from opening.

“Unfortunately these peptides aren’t completely selective for pain targets,”he said.

“Our goal was to find more specialised pain blockers that are potent andtarget pain sodium channels for chronic visceral pain, but not those that areactive in the heart and other channels.”

The team found two peptides isolated from the tarantula venom inhibited themost important ion channels underlying pain, with one particularly potent atreducing the sensory nerves of the bladder and colon and nearly stoppingchronic visceral pain in a model of IBS.

“We now have a really strong understanding of the structure and function ofthese spider venom peptides,” Professor Lewis said.

“The highly selective ones have potential as treatments for pain, while othersare useful as new research tools to allow us to understand the underlyingdrivers of pain in different diseases.”

The research evolved from 15 years of studying the potential of medicinesdeveloped from venoms, was published in the journal Pain(DOI:10.1097/j.pain.0000000000002041) and funded by the National Health andMedical Research Council.

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