Scorpion venom shows promise for treating fetal alcohol spectrum disorder

March 18, 2020

WASHINGTON - A research team led by Children's National Hospital faculty was able to "rescue" a pre-clinical model of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) in juvenile models, reversing motor skill deficits with the help of a novel drug derived from scorpion venom. The finding, in the , could offer hope to an estimated 119,000 children born with this condition worldwide each year.

FASD, caused by alcohol consumption during pregnancy, causes numerous learning disabilities, including cognitive and intellectual deficits. Motor skills problems can be an early indicator for these other issues, explains study leader

Hashimoto-Torii has been studying these effects ever since her postdoctoral training when, pregnant herself; she became interested in the consequences of environmental exposures on development. Over the past several years, she and colleagues have published a series of papers toward understanding FASD's molecular mechanisms.

In the most current paper, her team worked with a pre-clinical model of FASD in which gestating fetuses were exposed to alcohol at embryonic days 16 and 17, a period in which brain cells grow predominantly in the upper cortex, a brain region that plays a key role in motor abilities. This embryonic period corresponds to early mid-gestation in human fetuses.

When the researchers tested these pre-clinical models 30 days after birth--in two exams designed to assess both large-- and small-muscle motor skills--they showed significant deficits in both areas. Searching for the molecular differences that might underlie this diminished performance, the researchers found that prenatal alcohol exposure immediately activated a signaling pathway known as "heat shock," which causes cells to produce protective proteins. These heat shock proteins were produced randomly in some cells, rather than uniformly throughout the cell population.

Using a pre-clinical model that allowed them to track the descendants of these rapidly dividing neurons, the team found differences in the expression of 93 genes. One gene in particular, known as Kcnn2, which encodes a calcium-activated potassium channel, was over-expressed in the cells that produced heat shock proteins. This gene already has been implicated as playing an important role in learning and memory. Cells in which Kcnn2 was over-expressed showed abnormal firing patterns.

When the researchers administered a drug that blocks this channel, known as Tamapin and derived from Indian red scorpion venom, the affected cells' firing patterns reverted to normal. More importantly, pre-clinical models that received this drug at 30 days of life showed marked improvements in both large- and small-muscle motor skills. The fact that the pre-clinical models could still show improvements long after the initial damage suggests that treatment for children with FASD with a similar agent might also be effective, says Hashimoto-Torii. To that end, she and colleagues have launched a biotech company to further investigate this drug to see if it might hold promise in humans.

"Usually investigators looking for the molecular mechanisms behind disease stop there, but we want to move forward to have a real impact on public health," she says. "We really want to give patients the hope of having a better life through treating the neurodevelopmental problems caused by FASD."
-end-
Other Children's National researchers who contributed to this study include Shahid Mohammad, Stephen J. Page, Li Wang, Seiji Ishii, Peijun Li, Toru Sasaki, Aiesha Basha, Zenaide Quezado, Joshua Corbin, and Masaaki Torii.

Funding for this study was provided by the Scott-Gentle Foundation

Children's National Hospital

Related Scorpion Venom Articles from Brightsurf:

Exploring how a scorpion toxin might help treat heart attacks
Scientists are discovering potential life-saving medicines from an unlikely source: the venom of creatures like snakes, spiders and scorpions.

First evidence of snake-like venom glands found in amphibians
Caecilians are limbless amphibians that can be easily mistaken for snakes.

Snake venom evolved for prey not protection
It is estimated that every year, over 100,000 human deaths can be attributed to snakebite from the world's 700 venomous snake species -- all inflicted in self-defence when the snakes feel threatened by encroaching humans.

Scorpion venom shows promise for treating fetal alcohol spectrum disorder
A research team led by Children's National Hospital faculty was able to 'rescue' a pre-clinical model of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) in juvenile models, reversing motor skill deficits with the help of a novel drug derived from scorpion venom.

Venom-producing snake organoids developed in the lab
A team of scientists from the group of Hans Clevers at the Hubrecht Institute, the Netherlands, has developed a mini-venom glands of various snake species.

Fossil is the oldest-known scorpion
Scientists studying fossils collected 35 years ago have identified them as the oldest-known scorpion species, a prehistoric animal from about 437 million years ago.

Paleontology: New species of prehistoric scorpion may have been early land explorer
A new species of prehistoric scorpion from the early Siluarian period (approximately 437.5 to 436.5 million years ago) is described in a study in Scientific Reports.

From cone snail venom to pain relief
Conotoxins are bioactive peptides found in the venom that marine cone snails produce for prey capture and defense.

Scorpion toxin that targets 'wasabi receptor' may help solve mystery of chronic pain
Researchers at UC San Francisco and the University of Queensland have discovered a scorpion toxin that targets the 'wasabi receptor,' a chemical-sensing protein found in nerve cells that's responsible for the sinus-jolting sting of wasabi.

Mechanism of scorpion toxin inhibition of K+ channel elucidated using high-speed AFM
Agitoxin-2 (AgTx2) from scorpion venom is a potent blocker of K+ channels.

Read More: Scorpion Venom News and Scorpion Venom Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.