Though painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin are very effective in curbing a patient’s pain, they are known for their very addictive nature. Lately researchers and scientists have been dedicating efforts to look into safer, more effective painkillers. What is the secret to this new generation of painkillers? Spider-venom. It may seem like a strange ingredient but it works. By examining certain molecules and compounds present in arachnid venom, researchers hope to open up new possibilities for the creation of synthetic painkillers.
The compound in question is a peptide called ProTx-II, which previous studies have shown to bind to the pain receptor. However, the mechanisms by which ProTx-II interacts with the neuronal membrane in order to affect this receptor had until now remained unknown. Scientists from the University of Queensland have recently presented new research describing how they used an analytical technique called nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy in order to create 3-D representations of the peptide.
With the 3-D models in hand researchers were able to characterize and examine its structure in detail. Their study identified key binding sites that will likely interact to with the neuronal membranes. Concurrently, they used fluorescent trackers in order to observe exactly how these interactions occur in real life. Scientists gained a thorough overall understanding of how ProTx-II finds its way to the Nav 1.7 receptor.
As of late, results have shown that the cell membrane plays an important role in the ability of ProTx-II to inhibit the pain receptor. Researchers eventually came to find out, the neuronal cell membranes attract the peptide to the neurons, increase its concentration close to the pain receptors, and lock the peptide in the right orientation to maximize its interaction with the target.
By using this invaluable research to create new painkillers, it may be possible to replace some high-risk painkiller drugs that are currently used for pain management with spider-venom based alternatives that are less addictive and incur fewer negative side effects in the user.