New medicine

From scorpion venom to heart medicine

New study reveals how scorpion venom can lead to the development of medicine for heart attacks.

By Birgitte Svennevig, , 8/12/2020

Snakes, spiders and scorpions can be extremely venomous, and you definitely do not want to be bitten by one of them.

However, if you isolate the individual components of such extreme venoms, it turns out that specific molecules actually have a beneficial effect.

This applies for example to the substance KPP, a small peptide that is part of the venom of the Brazilian Yellow Scorpion (Tityus serrulatus), considered to be one of the most dangerous scorpions in South America. KPP has previously shown that it can cause rats' blood vessels to dilate and their blood pressure to drop. How exactly this happens, however, has been uncertain until now.

The researchers state that it will be very easy and cheap to synthesize KPP in the laboratory, so that it does not have to be painstakingly extracted from scorpions.

Can be easily made in the laboratory

A new study with the participation of Professor Frank Kjeldsen and research assistant Vladimir Gorskov from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at University of Southern Denmark (SDU) now reveals this. The lead author of the study is Associate Professor Thiago-Verano-Braga, formerly SDU, now Departamento de Fisiologia e Biofisica, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

The study also shows that KPP has the potential to be a star component in future medications for a number of heart problems.

The researchers state that it will be very easy and cheap to synthesize KPP in the laboratory, so that it does not have to be painstakingly extracted from scorpions.

How does it work?

To solve the mystery, the researchers performed experiments on heart muscle cells from mice. The cells were placed in a petri dish with KPP, and then the researchers kept an eye on which proteins in the cells were activated by KPP and what it led to.

The activated proteins are proteins that play a role in cell death, energy production, muscle contraction, and protein metabolism.

But most important in this context is that PKK activates cellular systems that lead to the production of nitric oxide - a substance known to lower blood pressure by relaxing the muscles around the blood vessels.

Original photo: José Roberto Peruca

The yellow Brazilian scorpion

5-7 cm long scorpion with yellow legs and tail. Only found in Brazil, where it is seen more and more often in the cities, for example in rubbish bins. The effect of a bite ranges from local soreness, fever and vomiting to coma and cramps. 1-2 pct. of children and the elderly who are bitten die.

Meet the researcher

Frank Kjeldsen, professor, Dept Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, SDU.

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