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Defining the pathogenic threat of envenoming by south african shield-nosed and coral snakes (genus aspidelaps), and revealing the likely efficacy of available antivenom.

Whiteley, Gareth, Casewell, Nicholas ORCID:, Pla, Davinia, Quesada-Bernat, Sarai, Logan, Rhiannon ORCID:, Bolton, Fiona, Wagstaff, Simon ORCID:, Gutiérrez, José M, Calvete, Juan J and Harrison, Robert (2019) 'Defining the pathogenic threat of envenoming by south african shield-nosed and coral snakes (genus aspidelaps), and revealing the likely efficacy of available antivenom.'. Journal of Proteomics, Vol 198, pp. 186-198.

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While envenoming by the southern African shield-nosed or coral snakes (genus Aspidelaps) has caused fatalities, bites are uncommon. Consequently, this venom is not used in the mixture of snake venoms used to immunise horses for the manufacture of regional SAIMR (South African Institute for Medical Research) polyvalent antivenom. Aspidelaps species are even excluded from the manufacturer's list of venomous snakes that can be treated by this highly effective product. This leaves clinicians, albeit rarely, in a therapeutic vacuum when treating envenoming by these snakes. This is a significantly understudied small group of nocturnal snakes and little is known about their venom compositions and toxicities. Using a murine preclinical model, this study determined that the paralysing toxicity of venoms from Aspidelaps scutatus intermedius, A. lubricus cowlesi and A. l. lubricus approached that of venoms from highly neurotoxic African cobras and mambas. This finding was consistent with the cross-genus dominance of venom three-finger toxins, including numerous isoforms which showed extensive interspecific variation. Our comprehensive analysis of venom proteomes showed that the three Aspidelaps species possess highly similar venom proteomic compositions. We also revealed that the SAIMR polyvalent antivenom cross-reacted extensively in vitro with venom proteins of the three Aspidelaps. Importantly, this cross-genus venom-IgG binding translated to preclinical (in a murine model) neutralisation of A. s. intermedius venom-induced lethality by the SAIMR polyvalent antivenom, at doses comparable with those that neutralise venom from the cape cobra (Naja nivea), which the antivenom is directed against. Our results suggest a wider than anticipated clinical utility of the SAIMR polyvalent antivenom, and here we seek to inform southern African clinicians that this readily available antivenom is likely to prove effective for victims of Aspidelaps envenoming.


Coral and shield-nosed snakes (genus Aspidelaps) comprise two species and several subspecies of potentially medically important venomous snakes distributed in Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa. Documented human fatalities, although rare, have occurred from both A. lubricus and A. scutatus. However, their venom proteomes and the pathological effects of envenomings by this understudied group of nocturnal snakes remain uncharacterised. Furthermore, no commercial antivenom is made using venom from species of the genus Aspidelaps. To fill this gap, we have conducted a transcriptomics-guided comparative proteomics analysis of the venoms of the intermediate shield-nose snake (A. s. intermedius), southern coral snake (A. l. lubricus), and Cowle's shield snake (A. l. cowlesi); investigated the mechanism of action underpinning lethality by A. s. intermedius in the murine model; and assessed the in vitro immunoreactivity of the SAIMR polyvalent antivenom towards the venom toxins of A. l. lubricus and A. l. cowlesi, and the in vivo capability of this antivenom at neutralising the lethal effect of A. s. intermedius venom. Our data revealed a high degree of conservation of the global composition of the three Aspidelaps venom proteomes, all characterised by the overwhelming predominance of neurotoxic 3FTxs, which induced classical signs of systemic neurotoxicity in mice. The SAIMR polyvalent antivenom extensively binds to Aspidelaps venom toxins and neutralised, with a potency of 0.235 mg venom/mL antivenom, the lethal effect of A. s. intermedius venom. Our data suggest that the SAIMR antivenom could be a useful therapeutic tool for treating human envenomings by Aspidelaps species.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: QV Pharmacology > Toxicology > General Toxicology > QV 602 Detection of poisons. Tests. Laboratory manuals. Technique
QW Microbiology and Immunology > Antigens and Antibodies. Toxins and Antitoxins > QW 630 Toxins. Antitoxins
WD Disorders of Systemic, Metabolic or Environmental Origin, etc > Animal Poisons > WD 410 Reptiles
Faculty: Department: Biological Sciences > Department of Tropical Disease Biology
Biological Sciences > Vector Biology Department
Digital Object Identifer (DOI):
Depositing User: Stacy Murtagh
Date Deposited: 08 Oct 2018 10:06
Last Modified: 02 Oct 2019 01:02


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