While, of course, scorpion venom itself is quite dangerous, isolating certain compounds of the venom provides unique opportunities for a number of health problems. Because venom is composed of biologically active molecules, including neurotoxins, vasodilators, and antimicrobial compounds, scientists have been interested in harnessing the molecular powers of the toxin.
Now chemists investigating the active molecules in scorpion venom are a step closer to understanding why the toxic venom is a source for potential cardiovascular disease drugs. The new research is published in ACS' Journal of Proteome Research highlighting the recent findings.
Scorpion venom is unique because of a peptide in it that has been shown to have beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system of rats with high blood pressure. The tripeptide KPP (Lys-Pro-Pro) is found in the C-terminus of Ts14—a 25-mer peptide from the venom of the Tityus serrulatus scorpion. It causes blood vessels to dilate and blood pressure to fall in hypertensive rats.
However, until now, scientists haven’t been able to understand how exactly KPP affects heart muscle cells.
Researchers Thiago Verano-Braga and Adriano Pimenta exposed mouse cardiac muscle cells in ex vivo and monitored the chemical reactions of the cells using mass spectrometry. Their findings showed that KPP regulates proteins that are linked to cell death, energy production, muscle contraction and protein turnover.
Furthermore, as Eureka Alert reports, “The scorpion peptide triggered the phosphorylation of a mouse protein called AKT, which activated it and another protein involved in the production of nitric oxide, a vasodilator. KPP treatment, however, caused dephosphorylation of a protein called phospholamban, leading to reduced contraction of cardiac muscle cells. Both AKT and phospholamban are already known to protect cardiac tissue from injuries caused by lack of oxygen.”
The researchers say that these findings are significant evidence to call for further investigation into KPP in order to determine the role it could play in developing a drug for cardiovascular problems.