Scorpion Venom May Be Effective Treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Scorpion Venom May Be Effective Treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis


A component of venom found in a scorpion may improve the lives of nearly 1.3 million Americans with rheumatoid arthritis, says a study from Baylor College of Medicine. Using animal models, researchers found it could reduce the severity of the disease with no side effects.

“Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease —  one in which the immune system attacks its own body. In this case, it affects the joints,” said Christine Beeton, associate professor of molecular physiology and biophysics.

“Cells called fibroblast-like synoviocytes (FLS) play a major role in the disease,” she continued. “As they grow and move from joint to joint, they secrete products that damage the joints and attract immune cells that cause inflammation and pain. As damage progresses, the joints become enlarged and are unable to move.”

Current treatments target the immune cells involved in the disease and none are specific for FLS. Beeton and her colleagues studied FLS looking for an ‘Achilles’ heel’ that would allow them to prevent or stop them from damaging the joints.

“In previous work, we identified a potassium channel on FLS of patients with rheumatoid arthritis and found that the channel was very important for the development of the disease,” Beeton said. “We wanted to find a way to block the channel to stop the cells damaging the joints.”

They found that the component of the Buthus tamulus scorpion called iberiotoxin specifically blocks the potassium channel of FLS without affecting other cells of the nervous system.

When the researchers treated rat models of the disease with iberiotoxin, they stopped the progression of the disease. In some cases, they reversed the signs of established disease, meaning that the animals had better joint mobility and less inflammation in their joints. In addition, treatment with iberiotoxin did not cause side effects.

“We think that this venom component, iberiotoxin, can become the basis for developing a new treatment for rheumatoid arthritis in the future,” Beeton said.

The study appears in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.

A recent study from Mayo Clinic’s Center for Individualized Medicine found that intestinal bacteria may trigger rheumatoid arthritis. Using genomic sequencing technology, they discovered that some gut microbes that were rare in healthy people were abundant in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

In a second study, the Mayo Clinic researchers treated one group of arthritis-susceptible mice with a bacterium, Prevotella histicola, and compared that to a group that had no treatment. The study found that mice treated with the bacterium had fewer symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis.

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