Poison frogs are immune to their own toxins and with that, they may help us fight pain and addiction.
“Being toxic can be good for your survival — it gives you an edge over predators,” co-first author Rebecca Tarvin, from the University of Texas, Austin, said in a statement. “So why aren’t more animals toxic? Our work is showing that a big constraint is whether organisms can evolve resistance to their own toxins. We found evolution has hit upon this same exact change in three different groups of frogs, and that, to me, is quite beautiful.”
A subgroup of poison frogs that uses epibatidine was found to have three out of its 2,500 amino acids change. While seemingly little, this is actually a huge difference that made them resistant to epibatidine damaging effects. Epibatidine is a powerful non-addictive painkiller with dangerous side effects. By binding itself to receptors in an animal’s nervous system can result to hypertension, seizures, and in some cases, death.
So, you see, knowing how these frogs block toxins from this could be of help to us. “Every bit of information we can gather on how these receptors are interacting with the drugs gets us a step closer to designing better drugs,” added Cecilia Borghese, another co-first author of the paper and a research associate in the university’s Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research.
Those tweaks in amino acids somehow made the receptor be unaffected by the toxin. “The most exciting thing is how these amino acids that are not even in direct contact with the drug can modify the function of the receptor in such a precise way,” Borghese continued. “And now the receptor is resistant to epibatidine. That for me was fascinating.”
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