Anthrax a Deadly Microbe Discovered to Have a Novel Pathway of Silencing Pain

The treatment of pain dates as back as the man himself. This goes without saying, pain reduces the quality of life making life unbearable. Real headway was made in the campaign to manage pain in the 19th century, management and knowledge about pain and its treatment have evolved ever since.

Anthrax Bacteria

Anthrax Bacteria

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Nowadays, several medications are administered to treat pain each one with different effectiveness and side effect profile. As the science of pain and pain management is evolving, it might be on the verge of uncovering a new ‘magic bullet’ for pain: anthrax toxin.

Anthrax toxin: the new magic bullet for pain?

Anthrax is an illness caused by spore-forming bacteria called Bacillus anthracis. It mainly affects the lungs, gut, and most commonly, skin. On the skin, they cause painless ulcers with a black core. Anthrax is perhaps one of the most dreaded diseases, employed illegally in bio-warfare. In a curious turn of events, scientists discovered that this dreaded organism may have a very important beneficial feature: the treatment of pain.

Animal studies carried out at Harvard Medical School have shown that anthrax toxins can change the signaling pathway in pain receptors if the toxin can be delivered in a targeted fashion. This alteration brings relief from pain.

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The researchers merged select components of the anthrax toxin with different molecular cargoes and delivered it to pain receptors. The beauty of this technology is its ability to precisely target and deliver pain treatment that modulates the functions of pain receptors. This precision helps this novel treatment to bypass systemic and CNS side effects that characterize other pain treatment modalities.

The team led by senior investigator Isaac Chiu, were amazed at the start of the experiment, when they discovered that pain neurons had a special receptor for anthrax toxin, unlike other sensory neurons that lacked this receptor. Could it be that the pain receptors have been genetically pre-programmed to respond to anthrax toxin?

In the course of the research, the researchers demonstrated that pain modulation can result when a pain nerve connects with two anthrax toxin proteins–protective antigen, edema factor, and lethal factor.

The combo of these agents can bring about a novel path to pain silencing

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Clinical significance

Despite its shortcoming, opioids remained the most effective treatment for pain for far too long The downside of opioid use included rewiring the neuronal circuitry in the brain’s reward center, thus creating dependence and even addiction. In addition, the opioids can act on other brain centers and suppress basic biologic functions like breathing, opioids could also trigger dizziness, nausea, constipation. That said, these pitfalls necessitated a safer and more effective treatment for pain–a medication with high precision for pain receptors.

Final Thoughts

Though the anthrax toxin has shown promise in clinical trials, it still has a long way to go in terms of modification. however, if anthrax pulls through these hurdles, and eventually gets necessary approval, it could turn to the most effective treatment with the elimination of the usual painkillers-related systemic side effects.

Read Also: Natural Remedies For Pain Versus Prescription Painkillers


Anthrax toxins regulate pain signaling and can deliver molecular cargoes into ANTXR2+ DRG sensory neurons




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