The new painkillers may have fewer side effects than current medications.
The peptides found in spider venom are able to block the pathway which is responsible for sending the pain signals from nerves to the human brain.
Scientists in the Molecular Bioscience Institute at University of Queensland examined venom samples from 205 spider species, and discovered that about 40 percent of the venoms had at least one peptide whose role involved blocking the human protein voltage-gated sodium channels as pain neurotransmitter.
Professor Glenn King, study leader, mentioned that most interesting was the Nav1.7 channel as previous research identified that people who lacked Nav1.7 due to genetic mutation were unable to experience pain.
“Of the seven promising peptides we identified, we discovered one that had the right structure, stability and potency to form the basis of a future painkiller,” said Prof. King. “We have nine sodium channels in our bodies and our challenge is to find peptides that can distinguish between these channels and target only Nav1.7 – something current pain relief drugs can’t do but spider venom peptides most likely can.”
Prof. King added that his team built a system that allows scientists to examine quickly a large number of venom peptides to search those showing potential for blocking the Nav1.7 channels.
Dr Julie Kaae Klint, current research associate at Evotec, said spider venom peptides had evolved to help spiders immobilize or kill their prey.
“A conservative estimate indicates that there are 9 million spider venom peptides contained within the venoms of the world’s 45,000 known spider species, and only 0.01 per cent of this vast pharmacological landscape has been explored so far,” Dr Klint said.
The study was supported by funding from the Australian Research Council, the National Health and Medical Research Council, and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health.