Centipede venom kills pain

It is likely that centipedes evolved the molecule to block pain-sensing nerve channels in insects in order to prey on them, says Glenn King. (Credit: Eivind Undheim)

A molecule in the venom of the Chinese red-headed centipede shows promise as a painkiller—potentially as effective as morphine, researchers say.

“We recently demonstrated that the venom of the Chinese red-headed centipede was rich in molecules that can alter the function of nerve channels, so we decided to explore this venom to see if there was a molecule that could block Nav1.7,” explains Professor Glenn King, from the University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience, who collaborated with researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

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King says the molecule they found does indeed block the Nav1.7 channel in pain-sensing nerves.

“People without a functioning Nav1.7 channel cannot feel pain, so it’s likely molecules that can block this channel will be powerful painkillers.

“The molecule we found selectively targets this pain channel, which is crucial as closely related channels play critical roles in controlling the heart and muscles.”

King says it was likely that centipedes had evolved the molecule to block similar nerve channels in insects in order to prey on them.

“There are a number of FDA-approved drugs derived from venom components currently on the market, with several more in clinical trials or various stages of preclinical development,” King says.

“Our study,” which appears in the journal PNAS, “suggests that centipede venoms, which to date have been largely unstudied, might provide a new source of potential drugs for treating chronic pain and other conditions.”

Source: University of Queensland