The Chinese Cobra (Naja atra) is an elapid snake of major medical importance in southern China. Although previous studies have shown that postsynaptic neurotoxins account for 11–23% of N. atra venom, envenomed patients do not display marked signs of neurotoxicity. We have previously shown that the lack of clinical neurotoxicity following snake envenoming by some species with ‘neurotoxic’ venoms may be related to the high prevalence of short-chain postsynaptic neurotoxins in these venoms. In this study, we describe the isolation and characterization of α-Elapitoxin-Na1a (α-EPTX-Na1a; 6949 Da), a short-chain postsynaptic neurotoxin, which accounts for approximately 9% of N. atra crude venom. α-EPTX-Na1a (30–300 nM) produced concentration-dependent inhibition of indirect-twitches, with a t90 value of 17 ± 2 min at 300 nM, and abolished contractile responses to exogenous acetylcholine and carbachol, in the chick biventer cervicis nerve-muscle preparation. The prior addition of either Chinese N. atra monovalent antivenom (0.3 U/ml) or Australian polyvalent snake antivenom (2.4 U/ml), prevented the in vitro neurotoxic effects of α-EPTX-Na1a (30 nM). Addition of each of these antivenoms at the t90 time point partially reversed the in vitro neurotoxicity caused by α-EPTX-Na1a (30 nM). The inhibition of indirect twitches by α-EPTX-Na1a (30 nM) was not reversed by repeatedly washing the tissue. α-EPTX-Na1a displayed pseudo-irreversible antagonism of concentration-response curves to carbachol with a pA2 value of 8.21. De novo protein sequencing of α-EPTX-Na1a revealed a typical short-chain postsynaptic neurotoxin profile of 62 amino acids which shared >98% amino acid sequence similarity with short-chain postsynaptic neurotoxins from other Naja species. When compared to short-chain neurotoxins isolated from cobras in China, α-EPTX-Na1a contained novel residues K47Q (i.e. lysine to glutamine), N48T (i.e. asparagine to threonine) and G49A (i.e. glycine to alanine). In conclusion, α-EPTX-Na1a is a potent, pseudo-irreversible, short-chain neurotoxin. The high prevalence of α-EPTX-Na1a in Chinese N. atra venom is likely to explain the mild neurotoxicity experienced by envenomed patients.
- Naja atra
- Postsynaptic neurotoxin