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Front. Pharmacol. | doi: 10.3389/fphar.2018.00145

Animal Toxins as Therapeutic Tools to Treat Neurodegenerative Diseases

 Jessica M. de Souza1, Bruno D. Goncalves2, Marcus V. Gomez3,  Luciene B. Vieira2 and  Fabiola M. Ribeiro1*
  • 1Department of Biochemistry and Immunology, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil
  • 2Department of Pharmacology, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil
  • 3Department of Neurotransmitters, Grupo Santa Casa BH, Brazil

Neurodegenerative diseases affect millions of individuals worldwide. So far, no disease-modifying drug is available to treat patients, making the search for effective drugs an urgent need. Neurodegeneration is triggered by the activation of several cellular processes, including oxidative stress, mitochondrial impairment, neuroinflammation, aging, aggregate formation, glutamatergic excitotoxicity, and apoptosis. Therefore, many research groups aim to identify drugs that may inhibit one or more of these events leading to neuronal cell death. Venoms are fruitful natural sources of new molecules, which have been relentlessly enhanced by evolution through natural selection. Several studies indicate that venom components can exhibit selectivity and affinity for a wide variety of targets in mammalian systems. For instance, an expressive number of natural peptides identified in venoms from animals, such as snakes, scorpions, bees, and spiders, were shown to lessen inflammation, regulate glutamate release, modify neurotransmitter levels, block ion channel activation, decrease the number of protein aggregates, and increase the levels of neuroprotective factors. Thus, these venom components hold potential as therapeutic tools to slow or even halt neurodegeneration. However, there are many technological issues to overcome, as venom peptides are hard to obtain and characterize and the amount obtained from natural sources is insufficient to perform all the necessary experiments and tests. Fortunately, technological improvements regarding heterologous protein expression, as well as peptide chemical synthesis will help to provide enough quantities and allow chemical and pharmacological enhancements of these natural occurring compounds. Thus, the main focus of this review is to highlight the most promising studies evaluating animal toxins as therapeutic tools to treat a wide variety of neurodegenerative conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, brain ischemia, glaucoma, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and multiple sclerosis.

Keywords: neurodegenerative disease, Neuronal Death, Neuroinflammation, excitotoxicity, Animal venom, toxins

Received: 01 Dec 2017; Accepted: 09 Feb 2018.

Edited by:

Albert Rizvanov, Kazan Federal University, Russia

Reviewed by:

Medardo Hernández, Complutense University of Madrid, Spain
Vincent C. Lombardi, Nevada Center for Biomedical Research, University of Nevada, Reno, United States  

Copyright: © 2018 de Souza, Goncalves, Gomez, Vieira and Ribeiro. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Fabiola M. Ribeiro, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Department of Biochemistry and Immunology, Avenida Antonio Carlos, 6627, UFMG, ICB, sala N4-189, Pampulha, Belo Horizonte, 31270-901, MG, Brazil, fmribeiro2013@gmail.com