Using an Australian stinging tree, researchers have discovered a novel pain pathway for non-opioid pain treatment.

Researchers at the University of Queensland have discovered a novel pain pathway that is targeted by the infamous Australian stinging tree. They claim that this discovery could lead to novel non-opioid pain relief.

How toxins in the venom of the Gympie-Gympie tree cause severe pain that can last for weeks has been investigated by Professor Irina Vetter and her group at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland.

According to Professor Vetter, the toxins in the plant, which the team previously referred to as gympietides, interact with nerves after being injected into the leaves by fine hairs that resemble needles.

Professor Vetter stated, “The gympietide toxin in the stinging tree has a structure similar to that of toxins produced by cone snails and spiders, but the similarity ends there.”

“The gympietide toxin in the stinging tree shares structural similarities with the poisons made by spiders and cone snails, but that is where the similarities end.”

Professor Irina Vetter

“We’ve never seen this toxin cause pain like this before.”

While many toxins directly bind to sodium channels in sensory nerve cells to cause pain, the UQ researchers discovered that the gympietide toxin requires assistance to bind.

Professor Vetter stated, “It requires a partner protein called TMEM233 to function, and the toxin has no effect in the absence of TMEM233.”

“This was a surprising figuring out and the primary opportunity we’ve seen a poison that requires an accomplice to influence sodium channels.”

The team is investigating the possibility of developing new painkillers by turning off this pain mechanism.

“The industrious aggravation the stinging tree poisons cause gives us trust that we can change over these mixtures into new pain relievers or sedatives which make dependable impacts,” Teacher Vetter said.

“We are excited to discover a new pain pathway that has the potential to allow us to develop new pain treatments without the side effects or dependency issues that are associated with conventional pain relief,” the researchers stated.

Sina Jami, Dr. Jennifer Deuis, Tabea Klasfauseweh, and Dr. Thomas Durek were members of Professor Vetter’s team at IMB.

Nature Communications is the journal that published the findings.

More information: Sina Jami et al, Pain-causing stinging nettle toxins target TMEM233 to modulate NaV1.7 function, Nature Communications (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-023-37963-2

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