An international team of scientists has been testing a peptide isolated from the poison of the West African tarantula on mice with a view to developing a treatment for suffers of Dravet syndrome, a condition which can cause intellectual disabilities, multiple daily seizures and early death.
It is caused by a mutation in a gene which produces a protein known as SCN1A, which is critical for calming the electrical activity of the brain.
As a result, sufferers only have half the amount of the protein, resulting in overactive brain activity.
The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).
Lead researcher Steven Petrou, from the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health in Melbourne, Australia said: “We reasoned that if we could just make the remaining protein work harder, it would effectively pick up the slack, much like a cyclist on a tandem bicycle can help her exhausted passenger by pedalling harder to maintain speed.”
Mr Petrou’s colleague Glenn King from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland hit upon the idea of tarantula venom having spent considerable time studying the venom of arthropods such spiders, scorpions and centipedes, for their potential to offer relief from chronic pain, epilepsy and stroke.
In accordance with the research, young Dravet-susceptible mice were given the peptide, called Hm1ar, with the result that their inhibitory interneuron activity was immediately boosted to normal levels.