High-molecular weight protein toxins of marine invertebrates and their elaborate modes of action

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High-molecular weight protein toxins significantly contribute to envenomations by certain marine invertebrates, e.g., jellyfish and fire corals. Toxic proteins frequently evolved from enzymes meant to be employed primarily for digestive purposes. The cellular intermediates produced by such enzymatic activity, e.g., reactive oxygen species or lysophospholipids, rapidly and effectively mediate cell death by disrupting cellular integrity. Membrane integrity may also be disrupted by pore-forming toxins that do not exert inherent enzymatic activity. When targeted to specific pharmacologically relevant sites in tissues or cells of the natural enemy or prey, toxic enzymes or pore-forming toxins even may provoke fast and severe systemic reactions. Since toxin-encoding genes constitute “hot spots” of molecular evolution, continuous variation and acquirement of new pharmacological properties are guaranteed. This also makes individual properties and specificities of complex proteinanceous venoms highly diverse and inconstant. In the present chapter we portray high-molecular weight constituents of venoms present in box jellyfish, sea anemones, sea hares, fire corals and the crown-of-thorns starfish. The focus lies on the latest achievements in the attempt to elucidate their molecular modes of action.