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HomeScienceAnts were found to cause pain by using neurotoxins, according to study.

Ants were found to cause pain by using neurotoxins, according to study.


Ant bullet. Credit: Sam Robinson, Institute of Molecular Biosciences, University of Queensland

Researchers from the University of Queensland have shown for the first time that some of the world’s most painful ant bites target nerves, much like snake and scorpion venom. This research has been published in Nature Communications.

Dr Sam Robinson and colleagues at the University of Queensland’s Institute of Molecular Biosciences discovered ant neurotoxins while studying Australian green ants and South American bullet ants, which have long-lasting, painful stings.

“We’ve shown that ant venom targets our nerve cells that send pain signals,” said Dr. Robinson. “Normally, sodium channels in these sensory neurons open only briefly in response to a stimulus.”

“We discovered that the ants’ toxins bind to sodium channels and cause them to open more easily and remain open and active, which translates into a long-lasting pain signal.”

“Bullet ant stings can be painful for up to 12 hours and are a deep pain you feel in your bones along with sweating and goosebumps, unlike the effect of a typical 10-minute bee sting.”

“We don’t have bullet ants in Australia, but our green ant (or Cape Verde ant) ​​can also cause lingering pain and many Australians will have experienced that.”

The bullet ant was ranked as the most painful insect sting in the world by the late Dr. Justin Schmidt, the American entomologist who created the Pain Index for Stinging Insects.

Credit: The University of Queensland

Dr. Robinson said research into how pain works could help develop new ways to treat it.

“We want to understand pain at the molecular level, and toxins are great tools for doing that,” he said.

“These neurotoxins that target sodium channels are unique to ants, no one has found anything that looks or works the same way, so now we have a new set of tools to work with.”

Ants developed their defensive neurotoxins to fend off predators during the time of the dinosaurs and have since become one of the most successful groups of animals on Earth.

The research team included Dr Jennifer Dawes, Dr Angelo Keramidas, Professor Irina Vetter, Professor Glenn King of IMB, and the late Dr Schmidt of Arizona’s Southwestern Biological Institute.

more information:
Samuel D. Robinson et al., Ant venoms contain pain-selective sodium channel toxins that cause pain to vertebrates, Nature Communications (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-023-38839-1

Provided by The University of Queensland

the quote: Research reveals ants cause pain with neurotoxins (2023, June 6) Retrieved June 6, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-06-reveals-ants-inflict-pain-neurotoxins.html

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