Scorpion Venom Component Can Reduce Severity of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Source: Baylor College of Medicine

Summary: A group of researchers has found that one of the hundreds of components in scorpion venom can reduce the severity of rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, one in which the immune system attacks its own body and affects the joints. Cells called fibroblast-like synoviocytes (FLS) play a major role in the disease. As they grow and move from joint to joint, they secrete products that damage the joints and attract immune cells that cause inflammation and pain. As damage progresses, the joints become enlarged and are unable to move. Current treatments target the immune cells involved in the disease and none are specific for FLS. A treatment that improves the lives of nearly 1.3 million people with rheumatoid arthritis might one day originate from scorpion venom. A group of researchers from the Baylor College of Medicine has found that one of the hundreds of components in scorpion venom can reduce the severity of this disease in animal models. The study findings were published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.

Auto immune disease

Dr. Christine Beeton looks at data with Dr. Mark Tanner. Credit: Baylor College of Medicine

In the previous work, the research team identified a potassium channel on FLS of patients with rheumatoid arthritis and found that the channel was very important for the development of the disease. They wanted to find a way to block the channel to stop the cells damaging the joints. Scorpion venom has hundreds of different components. One of the components in the venom of the scorpion called Buthus tamulus specifically blocks the potassium channel of FLS and not the channels in other cells such as those of the nervous system. In this study, they investigated whether this venom component, called iberiotoxin, would be able to specifically block the FLS potassium channel and reduce the severity of rheumatoid arthritis in rat models of the disease. They found that iberiotoxin stopped the progression of the disease. In some cases it reversed the signs of established disease, meaning that the animals had better joint mobility and less inflammation in their joints with no side effects.

Dr. Christine Beeton said, “Although these results are promising, much more research needs to be conducted before we can use scorpion venom components to treat rheumatoid arthritis”, “We think that this venom component, iberiotoxin, can become the basis for developing a new treatment for rheumatoid arthritis in the future.”

More Information: Mark R. Tanner et al, “Targeting KCa1.1 channels with a scorpion venom peptide for the therapy of rat models of rheumatoid arthritis”, Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (2018). DOI: 10.1124/jpet.117.245118

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