IBS Pain – Spiders to the Rescue

ibs-spidersMaterial provided by the University of Queensland1 revealed that spiders have assisted an international research team2 in the discovery of a new IBS pain target.

The Discovery

The international team, which included researches from the Universities of Queensland and Adelaide, used the venom of spiders to identify a particular protein involved in the transmission of mechanical pain – the kind of pain IBS patients experience.

A Vital Step in the Development of Treatments

Calling the discovery ‘a vital step in the development of IBS pain treatments’, Professor Glenn King from the University of Queensland’s IMB (Institute for Molecular Bioscience) Centre for Pain Research explained that spider venom:

  • Is a very effective tool in the investigation of pain signalling within the human body.
  • Is produced by spiders not only to kill prey, but also as a defence against predators – and the most effective way of defence is to make predators feel excruciating pain.
  • Should subsequently be full of stimulating molecules affecting the body’s pain-sensing nerves.

Examining which nerves are stimulated/activated when exposed to spider venom allows for the discovery of new pain pathways.

The NaV1.1 Ion Channel

The team discovered that the spider venom activated the so-called NaV1.1 ion channel, a protein found within muscles and nerves that has previously been associated with epilepsy, which suggests that this ion channel also plays an important role in the sensing and transmission of pain. On further investigation, it was found that this protein is present within the gut’s pain-sensing nerves and basically underlies abdominal pain at pathological levels, like that experienced by IBS patients.

Stating that around 20 per cent of Australians suffer with IBS pain (abdominal) and symptoms including constipation and diarrhoea, Associate Professor Brierley (University of Adelaide; soon to be Matthew Flinders Fellow, Flinders University) stated that while IBS pain and other symptoms place a huge burden onto both individuals and the health system as a whole, there are no effective IBS pain treatments at present. Sufferers are advised to prevent flare-ups by avoiding triggers instead.

Developing NaV1.1-Blocking Molecules

As it stands, the team are now in the process of developing molecules capable of blocking the NaV1.1 protein and alleviating IBS pain. We will keep an eye on things as they develop and try to keep you updated with the latest news concerning this research as it is revealed.


1: University of Queensland. “Spiders put the bite on irritable bowel syndrome pain.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 June 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160606200437.htm>

2: Jeremiah D. Osteen, Volker Herzig, John Gilchrist, Joshua J. Emrick, Chuchu Zhang, Xidao Wang, Joel Castro, Sonia Garcia-Caraballo, Luke Grundy, Grigori Y. Rychkov, Andy D. Weyer, Zoltan Dekan, Eivind A. B. Undheim, Paul Alewood, Cheryl L. Stucky, Stuart M. Brierley, Allan I. Basbaum, Frank Bosmans, Glenn F. King, David Julius. Selective spider toxins reveal a role for the Nav1.1 channel in mechanical pain. Nature, 2016; DOI: 10.1038/nature17976


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