The protein, haditoxin, was discovered in Professor Manjunatha Kini's laboratory at the National University of Singapore. The study's co-author, S. Niru Nirthanan, now at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, said since haditoxin is structurally unique, it's expected to have unique pharmacological properties.
"This toxin is like a conjoined twin," said Nirthanan. "It is a relatively large complex made up of two identical protein molecules known as three-finger toxins linked together. We know that the family of three-finger toxins display diverse biological actions on the human nervous system, cardiovascular system and blood clotting. Some have directly led to the development of compounds with potent analgesic and blood pressure reducing properties -- so it is likely that haditoxin in its 'conjoined twin' state or as individual components will offer us more novel insights."
The scientists said the venom primarily acts on neurotransmitter receptors that regulate communication between nerve cells or between nerves and muscles, resulting in symptoms such as paralysis and respiratory failure.
The receptors are also important in neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, as well as in schizophrenia, anxiety and depressive disorders and nicotine addiction.
The research that included the University of Geneva appears in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.