The molecular mystique of tetrodotoxin

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In many respects tetrodotoxin (TTX) is the quintessential natural toxin. It is unequivocally toxic to mammals with LD50 values for mice in the range of 10 μg/kg (intraperitoneal), 16 μg/kg (subcutaneous), and 332 μg/kg (oral) (Kao, 1966). Its biothreat status is recognized by its listing as a “Select Agent” by the US Department of Health and Human Services which includes regulated agents “determined to have the potential to pose a severe threat to both human and animal health” ( It has a well-defined cellular target (i.e., NaV channels) and pharmacological mode of action (i.e., block of nerve and muscle action potentials), and it is an indispensable chemical tool in neuroscience. It is widely distributed in marine and terrestrial ecosystems where it plays a role in the chemical ecology of predator–prey relationships and drives evolutionary selection of TTX-resistance (Hanifin, 2010; Williams, 2010; Zimmer and Ferrer, 2007). Lastly, TTX has acquired a certain mystique in scientific lore attributable to many fascinating aspects of its natural history and molecular interactions as presented in selected summary below. Additional information may be found in other excellent reviews (Fozzard and Lipkind, 2010; Kao, 1966; Lee and Ruben, 2008; Narahashi, 2001, 2008).

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