Deadly anthrax toxin blocks multiple types of pain in mice, study shows
A new study shows that a toxin from the microbe that causes anthrax can silence multiple types of pain in mice. Researchers found the toxin targets pain-sensing cells to alter signaling and block pain. Building on that finding, researchers engineered an anthrax protein vehicle to deliver different types of treatments into pain receptors and modulate nerve-cell function. The findings can inform the design of therapies that selectively target pain-sensing fibers without the widespread systemic effects of opioids and other pain killers.
The research reveals that this specific anthrax toxin works to alter signaling in pain-sensing neurons and, when delivered in a targeted manner into neurons of the central and peripheral nervous system, can offer relief to animals in distress. The work, led by investigators at Harvard Medical School in collaboration with industry scientists and researchers from other institutions, is published Dec. 20 in Nature Neuroscience.
"This molecular platform of using a bacterial toxin to deliver substances into neurons and modulate their function represents a new way to target pain-mediating neurons," said study senior investigator Isaac Chiu, associate professor of immunology in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School.
The researchers caution, however, that for now, this approach remains purely experimental and still needs to be tested and further fine-tuned in more animal studies and, eventually, in humans.