Melbourne: Australian researchers have discovered a new way to block the action of botulinum toxin, which they claim may pave the way for effective treatments of the life-threatening disease botulism.

Botulism is a rare but potentially fatal condition that involves progressive weakness. It is caused by botulinum toxin, which is made by the Clostridium botulinum bacterium found naturally in soil, sediments, raw foods and honey.

Now, a team from the Queensland Brain Institute, University of Newcastle and the Children's Medical Research Institute has found a novel way of blocking the update of the toxin using a new class of drug called dynamin inhibitors.

"We have designed and tested a new molecule called Dyngo-4a which prevents botulinum toxin from entering nerve cells. Dyngo-4a works by blocking the action of a protein called dynamin which plays a key role in controlling how most molecules can enter nerve cells," said Prof Fred Meunier, who led the study.

As terrorists have also attempted to use botulinum toxin as a bioweapon, development of more effective treatments to counter this type of health threat is a high priority for countries such as the United States, say the scientists.

"The toxin that causes botulism is one of the most deadly agents known – it's been estimated that a single gram of it in crystalline form could kill more than one million people if distributed evenly," Prof Meunier said.

"Our discovery not only opens up the possibility of better treatments for botulism, it also provides a new starting point for investigating potential treatments for other infectious diseases which use the same pathway to enter nerve cells in the body," the scientists said.
   
The findings have been published in the 'Journal of Biological Chemistry'.

(Agencies)