Special Issue "Drivers of Venom Potency across the Animal Kingdom"

A special issue of Toxins (ISSN 2072-6651). This special issue belongs to the section "Animal Venoms".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 31 January 2022.

Special Issue Editor

Dr. Kevin Healy
E-Mail
Guest Editor
Zoology Department, Ryan Institute, NUI Galway, Ireland

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Venom potency has long been a topic of interest to researchers from a wide range of fields. One driver of this interest is the diversity of organisms that have evolved venom, and with it, the wide variation in venom compositions that makes venom both a rich source of biodiscovery and a global public health issue. However, while varied, venoms have typically evolved to perform similar functional roles in predation and defence across phylogenetically distinct groups. Such convergent evolution highlights the potential that similar factors may drive certain aspects of venom function, such as potency.

The focus of this Special Issue is to explore the factors that determine the potency of venom across the span of the Animal Kingdom. This includes questions relating to genetic, molecular, evolutionary and ecological factors associated with venom potency. Submissions linking factors that apply across a wide taxonomic range will be particularly favoured, and I also strongly encourage submissions covering neglected areas and taxonomic groups. I look forward to editing an exciting collection of research and review articles that will help to stimulate interest in the fundamental drivers of venom potency across the diversity of venomous animals.

Dr. Kevin Healy
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Toxins is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 2400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • Venom
  • Potency
  • Phylogenetic comparative biology
  • LD50
  • EC50
  • Evolution
  • Ecology
  • Mechanistic drivers of potency

Published Papers (5 papers)

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Research

Article
Evidence for Resistance to Coagulotoxic Effects of Australian Elapid Snake Venoms by Sympatric Prey (Blue Tongue Skinks) but Not by Predators (Monitor Lizards)
Toxins 2021, 13(9), 590; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/toxins13090590 - 24 Aug 2021
Viewed by 2451
Abstract
Some Australian elapids possess potently procoagulant coagulotoxic venoms which activate the zymogen prothrombin into the functional enzyme thrombin. Although the activity of Australian elapid prothrombin-activators has been heavily investigated with respect to the mammalian, and in particular, human clotting cascades, very few studies [...] Read more.
Some Australian elapids possess potently procoagulant coagulotoxic venoms which activate the zymogen prothrombin into the functional enzyme thrombin. Although the activity of Australian elapid prothrombin-activators has been heavily investigated with respect to the mammalian, and in particular, human clotting cascades, very few studies have investigated the activity of their venom upon reptile plasmas. This is despite lizards representing both the primary diet of most Australian elapids and also representing natural predators. This study investigated the procoagulant actions of a diverse range of Australian elapid species upon plasma from known prey species within the genera Tiliqua (blue tongue skinks) as well as known predator species within the genera Varanus (monitor lizards). In addition to identifying significant variation in the natural responses of the coagulation cascade between species from the genera Tiliqua and Varanus relative to each other, as well as other vertebrate lineages, notable differences in venom activity were also observed. Within the genus Tiliqua, both T. rugosa and T. scincoides plasma displayed significant resistance to the procoagulant activity of Pseudechis porphyriacus venom, despite being susceptible to all other procoagulant elapid venoms. These results indicate that T. rugosa and T. scincoides have evolved resistance within their plasma to the coagulotoxic venom activity of the sympatric species P. porphyriacus. Other venoms were able to activate Tiliqua prothrombin, which suggests that the lessened activity of P. porphyriacus venom is not due to modifications of the prothrombin and may instead be due to a serum factor that specifically binds to P. porphyriacus toxins, as has been previously seen for squirrels resistant to rattlesnake venom. In contrast, none of the predatory lizards studied (Varanus giganteus, V. mertensi and V. varius) demonstrated resistance to the venom. This suggests that the mechanical protection afforded by thick osteodermic scales, and prey handling behaviour, removes a selection pressure for the evolution of resistance in these large predatory lizards. These results therefore reveal differential interactions between venoms of snakes with sympatric lizards that are on opposite sides of the predator–prey arms race. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Drivers of Venom Potency across the Animal Kingdom)
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Article
The Dragon’s Paralysing Spell: Evidence of Sodium and Calcium Ion Channel Binding Neurotoxins in Helodermatid and Varanid Lizard Venoms
Toxins 2021, 13(8), 549; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/toxins13080549 - 06 Aug 2021
Viewed by 1244
Abstract
Bites from helodermatid lizards can cause pain, paresthesia, paralysis, and tachycardia, as well as other symptoms consistent with neurotoxicity. Furthermore, in vitro studies have shown that Heloderma horridum venom inhibits ion flux and blocks the electrical stimulation of skeletal muscles. Helodermatids have long [...] Read more.
Bites from helodermatid lizards can cause pain, paresthesia, paralysis, and tachycardia, as well as other symptoms consistent with neurotoxicity. Furthermore, in vitro studies have shown that Heloderma horridum venom inhibits ion flux and blocks the electrical stimulation of skeletal muscles. Helodermatids have long been considered the only venomous lizards, but a large body of robust evidence has demonstrated venom to be a basal trait of Anguimorpha. This clade includes varanid lizards, whose bites have been reported to cause anticoagulation, pain, and occasionally paralysis and tachycardia. Despite the evolutionary novelty of these lizard venoms, their neuromuscular targets have yet to be identified, even for the iconic helodermatid lizards. Therefore, to fill this knowledge gap, the venoms of three Heloderma species (H. exasperatum, H. horridum and H. suspectum) and two Varanus species (V. salvadorii and V. varius) were investigated using Gallus gallus chick biventer cervicis nerve–muscle preparations and biolayer interferometry assays for binding to mammalian ion channels. Incubation with Heloderma venoms caused the reduction in nerve-mediated muscle twitches post initial response of avian skeletal muscle tissue preparation assays suggesting voltage-gated sodium (NaV) channel binding. Congruent with the flaccid paralysis inducing blockage of electrical stimulation in the skeletal muscle preparations, the biolayer interferometry tests with Heloderma suspectum venom revealed binding to the S3–S4 loop within voltage-sensing domain IV of the skeletal muscle channel subtype, NaV1.4. Consistent with tachycardia reported in clinical cases, the venom also bound to voltage-sensing domain IV of the cardiac smooth muscle calcium channel, CaV1.2. While Varanus varius venom did not have discernable effects in the avian tissue preparation assay at the concentration tested, in the biointerferometry assay both V. varius and V. salvadorii bound to voltage-sensing domain IV of both NaV1.4 and CaV1.2, similar to H. suspectum venom. The ability of varanid venoms to bind to mammalian ion channels but not to the avian tissue preparation suggests prey-selective actions, as did the differential potency within the Heloderma venoms for avian versus mammalian pathophysiological targets. This study thus presents the detailed characterization of Heloderma venom ion channel neurotoxicity and offers the first evidence of varanid lizard venom neurotoxicity. In addition, the data not only provide information useful to understanding the clinical effects produced by envenomations, but also reveal their utility as physiological probes, and underscore the potential utility of neglected venomous lineages in the drug design and development pipeline. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Drivers of Venom Potency across the Animal Kingdom)
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Article
Snake Venom Proteomics, Immunoreactivity and Toxicity Neutralization Studies for the Asiatic Mountain Pit Vipers, Ovophis convictus, Ovophis tonkinensis, and Hime Habu, Ovophis okinavensis
Toxins 2021, 13(8), 514; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/toxins13080514 - 23 Jul 2021
Viewed by 1001
Abstract
Snakebite envenomation is a serious neglected tropical disease, and its management is often complicated by the diversity of snake venoms. In Asia, pit vipers of the Ovophis species complex are medically important venomous snakes whose venom properties have not been investigated in depth. [...] Read more.
Snakebite envenomation is a serious neglected tropical disease, and its management is often complicated by the diversity of snake venoms. In Asia, pit vipers of the Ovophis species complex are medically important venomous snakes whose venom properties have not been investigated in depth. This study characterized the venom proteomes of Ovophis convictus (West Malaysia), Ovophis tonkinensis (northern Vietnam, southern China), and Ovophis okinavensis (Okinawa, Japan) by applying liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry, which detected a high abundance of snake venom serine proteases (SVSP, constituting 40–60% of total venom proteins), followed by phospholipases A2, snake venom metalloproteinases of mainly P-III class, L-amino acid oxidases, and toxins from other protein families which were less abundant. The venoms exhibited different procoagulant activities in human plasma, with potency decreasing from O. tonkinensis > O. okinavensis > O. convictus. The procoagulant nature of venom confirms that consumptive coagulopathy underlies the pathophysiology of Ovophis pit viper envenomation. The hetero-specific antivenoms Gloydius brevicaudus monovalent antivenom (GbMAV) and Trimeresurus albolabris monovalent antivenom (TaMAV) were immunoreactive toward the venoms, and cross-neutralized their procoagulant activities, albeit at variably limited efficacy. In the absence of species-specific antivenom, these hetero-specific antivenoms may be useful in treating coagulotoxic envenomation caused by the different snakes in their respective regions. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Drivers of Venom Potency across the Animal Kingdom)
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Communication
The Curious Case of the “Neurotoxic Skink”: Scientific Literature Points to the Absence of Venom in Scincidae
Toxins 2021, 13(2), 114; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/toxins13020114 - 03 Feb 2021
Viewed by 1216
Abstract
In contrast to the clearly documented evolution of venom in many animal lineages, the origin of reptilian venom is highly debated. Historically, venom has been theorised to have evolved independently in snakes and lizards. However, some of the recent works have argued for [...] Read more.
In contrast to the clearly documented evolution of venom in many animal lineages, the origin of reptilian venom is highly debated. Historically, venom has been theorised to have evolved independently in snakes and lizards. However, some of the recent works have argued for the common origin of venom in “Toxicofera” reptiles, which include the order Serpentes (all snakes), and Anguimorpha and Iguania lizards. Nevertheless, in both these contrasting hypotheses, the lizards of the family Scincidae are considered to be harmless and devoid of toxic venoms. Interestingly, an unusual clinical case claiming neurotoxic envenoming by a scincid lizard was recently reported in Southern India. Considering its potentially significant medicolegal, conservation and evolutionary implications, we have summarised the scientific evidence that questions the validity of this clinical report. We argue that the symptoms documented in the patient are likely to have resulted from krait envenomation, which is far too frequent in these regions. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Drivers of Venom Potency across the Animal Kingdom)
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Article
A Wolf in Another Wolf’s Clothing: Post-Genomic Regulation Dictates Venom Profiles of Medically-Important Cryptic Kraits in India
Toxins 2021, 13(1), 69; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/toxins13010069 - 19 Jan 2021
Cited by 6 | Viewed by 2030
Abstract
The Common Krait (Bungarus caeruleus) shares a distribution range with many other ‘phenotypically-similar’ kraits across the Indian subcontinent. Despite several reports of fatal envenomings by other Bungarus species, commercial Indian antivenoms are only manufactured against B. caeruleus. It is, therefore, [...] Read more.
The Common Krait (Bungarus caeruleus) shares a distribution range with many other ‘phenotypically-similar’ kraits across the Indian subcontinent. Despite several reports of fatal envenomings by other Bungarus species, commercial Indian antivenoms are only manufactured against B. caeruleus. It is, therefore, imperative to understand the distribution of genetically distinct lineages of kraits, the compositional differences in their venoms, and the consequent impact of venom variation on the (pre)clinical effectiveness of antivenom therapy. To address this knowledge gap, we conducted phylogenetic and comparative venomics investigations of kraits in Southern and Western India. Phylogenetic reconstructions using mitochondrial markers revealed a new species of krait, Romulus’ krait (Bungarus romulusi sp. nov.), in Southern India. Additionally, we found that kraits with 17 mid-body dorsal scale rows in Western India do not represent a subspecies of the Sind Krait (B. sindanus walli) as previously believed, but are genetically very similar to B. sindanus in Pakistan. Furthermore, venom proteomics and comparative transcriptomics revealed completely contrasting venom profiles. While the venom gland transcriptomes of all three species were highly similar, venom proteomes and toxicity profiles differed significantly, suggesting the prominent role of post-genomic regulatory mechanisms in shaping the venoms of these cryptic kraits. In vitro venom recognition and in vivo neutralisation experiments revealed a strong negative impact of venom variability on the preclinical performance of commercial antivenoms. While the venom of B. caeruleus was neutralised as per the manufacturer’s claim, performance against the venoms of B. sindanus and B. romulusi was poor, highlighting the need for regionally-effective antivenoms in India. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Drivers of Venom Potency across the Animal Kingdom)
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