Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Venomous Celebration
10 February 2013

Venomous Celebration

Today we usher in the Chinese New Year of the snake. But the sight of a snake is not always cause for celebration: over 20,000 people die each year from snakebites. Quickly applied antivenom can quell the body-wide breakdown caused by the snake’s poison, but scientists are still trying to tease apart how venom damages tissue and blood vessels around the bite site. One way of doing this is to track where the toxins accumulate to do their damage, and watch the damage unfurl. Enzymes in the venom called metalloproteinases (coloured green here) slither into cells and break them apart. This picture shows these molecular weapons amassing around the capillaries of a bitten mouse’s skin, preparing to rupture the blood vessels. Revealing how venom damages tissue immediately around bites could lead to treatments to complement antivenom, limiting the damage caused, and giving everyone reason to celebrate.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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