February 3, 2023

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Nature Neuroscience: Deadly anthrax toxin can be used to eliminate pain

Nature Neuroscience: Deadly anthrax toxin can be used to eliminate pain


Nature Neuroscience: Deadly anthrax toxin can be used to eliminate pain. 


Nociceptors are a group of specific sensory neurons that can alert us to harmful environmental changes or stimuli, such as extreme temperature or pressure.

Their signals are translated into pain in the brain. Nociceptors can also sense specific types of pathogenic bacteria directly or through toxins produced by bacteria.

However, to avoid detection, some bacteria release substances that can block pain signals .


Acute and chronic pain have long plagued the lives of many adults.

Because the brain’s control mechanism for pain is extremely complex, the diagnosis of pain lacks an effective objective basis, which has led to the proliferation of opioid pain relievers .

Although opioids are currently the most effective painkillers, they have serious side effects-they can reshape the brain’s reward system, so they are highly addictive, and they have the ability to inhibit breathing, which is life-threatening.


Therefore, the development of non-opioid analgesics that are not addictive and can effectively relieve pain has a very large and very urgent clinical need.


December 20, 2021, Researchers from Harvard Medical School  published a research paper, entitled: Anthrax toxins regulate pain signaling and can deliver molecular cargoes into ANTXR2+ DRG sensory neurons in Nature Neuroscience journal.


The study showed that the terrifying and deadly bacterium Bacillus anthracis ( Bacillus anthracis ) has unexpected benefits: The anthracnose toxin released by it can relieve a variety of animal pain. This suggests that anthrax toxin may serve as a new potential analgesic therapy.


Nature Neuroscience: Deadly anthrax toxin can be used to eliminate pain. 


Bacillus anthracis , a highly lethal bacteria, is highly infectious. After infecting humans, it can cause skin necrosis, ulcers, extensive edema of the eschar and surrounding tissues, and symptoms of toxemia.

It can occasionally cause acute infections of the lungs, intestines and meninges, and may be accompanied by sepsis. Bacillus anthracis can form a spore structure, so it has the ability to survive in nature for a long time.


On September 18, 2001, there was a sensational bioterrorism attack in the United States.

Bruce Edwards Ivins, a staff member of the U.S. Army Institute of Infectious Diseases, sent envelopes containing Bacillus anthracis to several news media offices and two Democratic senators.

This incident resulted in 5 deaths and 17 infections.


Qiu Mingcheng and others found that the receptors expressed by specific sensory neurons near the spinal cord of mice and humans—the dorsal root ganglion cells — could bind to the anthrax toxin .

In addition, treating mice with edema toxin (an anthrax toxin) can reduce their sensitivity to painful stimuli, including heat or acupuncture.

This effect depends on sensory neurons that can express anthrax receptors. Although the exact mechanism by which edema toxin reduces pain signal transduction remains to be clarified, edema toxin has been found to block signal transduction between sensory neurons in mouse and human stem cell models.


In addition, these findings also raised another interesting question: From an evolutionary perspective, why the micro- organisms will eliminate the pain?

Qiu Mingcheng believes that one possible explanation is that microorganisms have developed ways to interact with their hosts to promote their own spread and survival.

For Bacillus anthracis, they prevent the host from perceiving the presence of a bacterial infection by preventing the host’s ability to perceive pain.

The author believes that this understanding of the interaction between anthrax toxin derivatives and pain receptors may promote the development of new research tools and the improvement of analgesic drugs .


Finally, the research team emphasized that this research is experimental, and testing in more animal studies is still needed to determine safety before it can finally be studied in humans.


In addition, in October 2019, researchers from Purdue University in the United States published a research paper in the International Journal of Cancer , showing that anthrax toxin is used as an active ingredient and combined with a growth factor to make a new pharmaceutical preparation.

In just three minutes, the drug can achieve the effect of targeting to kill bladder cancer cells .


The author of the paper, Professor Claudio Aguilar , explained that: the human bladder tissue has a special protective layer, which can protect normal cells from the “attack” of the anthrax mixture, but does not protect tumors and cancer cells from the “attack”. 

Therefore, this innovative method can effectively kill bladder cancer cells without damaging normal cells in the patient’s bladder .


Nature Neuroscience: Deadly anthrax toxin can be used to eliminate pain. 




Paper link:

Nature Neuroscience: Deadly anthrax toxin can be used to eliminate pain. 

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