Botulism is poisoning with botulinum toxin produced by bacteria Clostridium botulinum… The bacterium is an anaerobic, does not like oxygen very much, therefore botulism usually occurs due to spoiled canned food, sausages and other foods that have suitable conditions for C. botulinum (although it happens that it begins to multiply in wounds, and then they talk about wound botulism).
Botulinum toxin is one of the most powerful toxic substances. It is a large protein that breaks down other proteins, without which nerve cells cannot do their job. Due to botulinum toxin, neurons stop sending signals, and if we are talking about the nerve centers that control breathing and heartbeat, then paralysis of the respiratory muscles and heart occurs with an inevitable death.
Antibodies are used against botulism that bind the toxin and prevent it from working. However, these antibodies neutralize only the botulinum toxin that floats in the blood. As soon as it enters the nervous system, it becomes inaccessible to them. But if we could find a way to deliver antibodies to neurons, then we would be able to cope with the toxin that has already entered them.
Employees of Harvard University and Boston Children’s Hospital decided to use for this … botulinum toxin itself. Of course, not natural, but modified. There is not just one protein in botulinum toxins, but a whole group, and among them there are those that do not harm neurons. The researchers created a hybrid molecule: one part of it was taken from the poisonous toxin of the bacteria Clostridium botulinum, and the other part was taken, if I may say so, from the non-toxic botulinum toxin. The result is a chimeric protein that can penetrate into neurons and, at the same time, is completely harmless to neurons.
Then it was combined with antibodies against the real, poisonous botulinum toxin. A lethal dose of natural botulinum toxin was administered to mice, and when the animals became paralyzed, they were given a medicine – a hybrid botulinum toxin, which carried antibodies on itself. In an article in Science Translational Medicine it is said that the mice that received the medicine recovered completely after six hours. Researchers at New York University, Wake Forest University and the Military Institute of Chemical Defense tested the new drug in macaques and reported in another article in Science Translational Medicinethat the medicine works on monkeys too.
The toxin was administered to laboratory animals once. If we talk about people, then in case of poisoning, a significant part of the botulinum toxin remains in the intestines for some time. And gradually botulinum toxin from the intestines penetrates into the nervous system, so that the poisoning stretches over time. Therefore, a new drug that can penetrate neurons must be combined with an old drug that neutralizes the toxin in the blood.
Specific treatment regimens have yet to be developed here. Classic botulism due to spoiled canned food is now, although rare, but still occurs. In addition, let’s not forget that botulinum toxin is widely used in cosmetology; finally, it can be specifically used as a chemical warfare agent.
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