Web Only Article April 22, 2015

Why Are The Effects Of Snake Venom So Varied?

Snake venom consists of proteins, enzymes, substances with a cytotoxic (poisonous to living cells) effect, neurotoxins (which damage nerve cells), and anti-coagulants. Four distinct types of venom act on the body differently.

- Proteolytic venoms disrupt tissue integrity.

- Hemotoxic venoms affect cardiac tissue, blood vessels, and blood cells.

- Neurotoxic venoms damage the central and peripheral nervous systems, leading to muscle weakness and paralysis.

- Cytotoxic venoms damage cells at the bite site.

Each snake has different amounts of different toxins in its venom. For example, the Mojave rattlesnake’s venom consists primarily of a neurotoxin, while the western diamondback’s venom contains digestive enzymes and anti-coagulants to immobilize its prey. The following components are common in venomous snakes.

- Phosphodiesterases cause cardiac pathology and hypotension (loss of blood pressure).

- Phospholipase A2 causes hemolysis (destruction of red blood cells) and thrombocytopenia (loss of blood platelets that help the blood clot).

- Cholinesterase inhibitors make prey animals lose muscle control.

- Hyaluronidase increases tissue permeability and enhances the rate of venom absorption.

- Amino acid oxidases and proteases predigest prey.

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