Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences

, Volume 65, Issue 18, pp 2897–2912

Cellular pathology induced by snake venom phospholipase A2 myotoxins and neurotoxins: common aspects of their mechanisms of action


DOI: 10.1007/s00018-008-8113-3

Cite this article as:
Montecucco, C., Gutiérrez, J.M. & Lomonte, B. Cell. Mol. Life Sci. (2008) 65: 2897. doi:10.1007/s00018-008-8113-3


A large variety of snake toxins evolved from PLA2 digestive enzymes through a process of ‘accelerated evolution’. These toxins have different tissue targets, membrane receptors and mechanisms of alteration of the cell plasma membrane. Two of the most commonly induced effects by venom PLA2s are neurotoxicity and myotoxicity. Here, we will discuss how these snake toxins achieve a similar cellular lesion, which is evolutionarily highly conserved, despite the differences listed above. They cause an initial plasma membrane perturbation which promotes a large increase of the cytosolic Ca2+ concentration leading to cell degeneration, following modes that we discuss in detail for muscle cells and for the neuromuscular junction. The different systemic pathophysiological consequences caused by these toxins are not due to different mechanisms of cell toxicity, but to the intrinsic anatomical and physiological properties of the targeted tissues and cells.


Snake venomsPLA2neurotoxinsmyotoxinsCa2+

Copyright information

© Birkhaueser 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Instituto Clodomiro Picado, Facultad de MicrobiologíaUniversidad de Costa RicaSan JoséCosta Rica
  2. 2.Dipartimento di Scienze BiomedicheUniversitá di PadovaPadovaItaly