Widespread and Differential Neurotoxicity in Venoms from the Bitis Genus of Viperid Snakes

Nicholas J. Youngman, Richard J. Harris, Tam M. Huynh, Kristian Coster, Eric Sundman, Ralph Braun, Arno Naude, Wayne C. Hodgson, Bryan G. Fry

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7 Citations (Scopus)


Research into the neurotoxic activity of venoms from species within the snake family Viperidae is relatively neglected compared with snakes in the Elapidae family. Previous studies into venoms from the Bitis genus of vipers have identified the presence of presynaptic phospholipase A2 neurotoxins in B. atropos and B. caudalis, as well as a postsynaptic phospholipase A2 in B. arietans. Yet, no studies have investigated how widespread neurotoxicity is across the Bitis genus or if they exhibit prey selectivity of their neurotoxins. Utilising a biolayer interferometry assay, we were able to assess the binding of crude venom from 14 species of Bitis to the neuromuscular α-1 nAChR orthosteric site across a wide range of vertebrate taxa mimotopes. Postsynaptic binding was seen for venoms from B. arietans, B. armata, B. atropos, B. caudalis, B. cornuta, B. peringueyi and B. rubida. To further explore the types of neurotoxins present, venoms from the representatives B. armata, B. caudalis, B. cornuta and B. rubida were additionally tested in the chick biventer cervicis nerve muscle preparation, which showed presynaptic and postsynaptic activity for B. caudalis and only presynaptic neurotoxicity for B. cornuta and B. rubida, with myotoxicity also evident for some species. These results, combined with the biolayer interferometry results, indicate complex neurotoxicity exerted by Bitis species, which varies dramatically by lineage tested upon. Our data also further support the importance of sampling across geographical localities, as significant intraspecific variation of postsynaptic neurotoxicity was reported across the different localities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)697-704
Number of pages8
JournalNeurotoxicity Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


  • Bitis
  • Neurotoxicity
  • Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor
  • Postsynaptic
  • Presynaptic
  • Viperidae

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