Chronic pain is a major medical issue which reduces the quality of life of millions and inflicts a significant burden on health authorities worldwide. Currently, management of chronic pain includes first-line pharmacological therapies that are inadequately effective, as in just a portion of patients pain relief is obtained. Furthermore, most analgesics in use produce severe or intolerable adverse effects that impose dose restrictions and reduce compliance. As the majority of analgesic agents act on the central nervous system (CNS), it is possible that blocking pain at its source by targeting nociceptors would prove more efficient with minimal CNS-related side effects. The development of such analgesics requires the identification of appropriate molecular targets and thorough understanding of their structural and functional features. To this end, plant and animal toxins can be employed as they affect ion channels with high potency and selectivity. Moreover, elucidation of the toxin-bound ion channel structure could generate pharmacophores for rational drug design while favorable safety and analgesic profiles could highlight toxins as leads or even as valuable therapeutic compounds themselves. Here, we discuss the use of plant and animal toxins in the characterization of peripherally expressed ion channels which are implicated in pain.
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