Centipedes are among the world's most efficient killers. With a bite so deadly, it can kill animals that are 15 times larger in just 30 seconds.
These bites rarely result in human death, but they are known to bring severe cardiovascular symptoms, which often require hospitalization for relief.
Bite victims commonly experience excruciating pain lasting up to 48 hours. However, there are cases when the insect's venom triggers headaches, chest pain, heart tremors, and nausea.
For years, healthcare providers have been limited to providing symptomatic relief, as there was no known treatment for these lethal bites.
This is the very reason why a team of scientists from various Chinese institutions launched an intensive examination of centipede venom.
By testing each chemical in the venom, they identified the specific toxin that makes the insect's bite fatal and its potential cure, an anticonvulsant prescribed for epilepsy.
What Is The Ssm Spooky Toxin?
To observe the toxin's effects on bite victims, scientists kept a 3-gram golden head centipede in the same container as a 45-gram Kunming mouse.
They report that the insect immediately attacked the mouse and was able to take it down successfully in as fast as 30 seconds with only a small dose.
Such capability to subdue larger animals using venom is also present among ants, spiders, and scorpions, but it takes several individuals to kill off the prey.
By contrast, centipedes are more efficient because, as evidenced by the experiment, a single insect can successfully capture a bigger prey all on its own.
The scientists then extracted the animal's venom for further inspection. First, they diluted the substance and subjected it to Sephadex G-50 gel filtration.
After a laborious process, scientists were able to isolate the deadly toxin, which they named Ssm Spooky Toxin, after the golden head centipede's scientific name, Scolopendra subspinipes mutilans.
How Does SsTx Work To Subdue Larger Prey?
Aside from identifying the toxin, scientists also determined the mechanism by which SsTx disrupts the cardiovascular system.
It works by blocking KCNQ channels, a machinery that facilitates the movement of potassium in and out of cells.
Not only will this result in seizures but also death, as such blockage prevents the brain from signaling the heart to continue beating.
Moreover, these channels are also found in human bronchioles and are essential for regulation of breathing. If blocked, a bite victim is likely to suffer respiratory failure.
By pinning down the exact toxin behind lethal centipede bites, scientists have concluded that retigabine could be an effective treatment for envenomation.
Previous research has found that the anticonvulsant reactivates KCNQ channels to reduce the frequency of seizures among epileptic patients by up to 44.3 percent.
Further testing is needed to prove the drug's efficacy against toxic centipede bites.