The sight of a standing or scurrying spider commonly sends chills up the spines of many a female. In certain countries, residents of both genders have a healthy respect for the eight-legged arachnids and rightly so. The bite of the venomous banana spider, found in the rainforests of Central and South America, poses a dangerous health hazard. Symptoms accompanying the toxic venom include excessive salivation, shortness of breath, tremors, and a long-lasting but painful erection that may cause permanent tissue damage.
The venom’s ability for producing prolonged erection, known medically as priapism, intrigued scientists who pondered whether components of the toxin might serve as a treatment for erectile dysfunction, commonly called ED. Studies indicate that as many as 50 million men around the world suffer from the disorder. Approximately one-third of these individuals do not experience improvement after taking prescription medications.
Dr. Kenia Nunes, a physiologist from the Medical College of Georgia, explains that toxins contain a combination of molecules that form compounds. Each compound performs a different function and creates a specific symptom. With this understanding, researchers in Brazil and the U.S. acquired the potentially deadly toxin, isolated the peptide they believe produced the sustained erection symptom, and named the substance PnTx2-6.
Scientists injected the peptide into elderly rats suffering from hypertension and subsequent erectile dysfunction. The animals achieved sustained erections without adverse reactions. Researchers also found that PnTx2-6 affects the physiological symptoms of ED in a manner that differs from medication. Prescription medications cause vasodilatation by preventing the breakdown of an enzyme called cGMP, which combines with the vascular relaxing compound known as nitric oxide. PnTx2-6, on the other hand, merely increases levels of nitric oxide.
The next step involves gaining approval for human testing. Dr. Nunes not only has hopes for treating male ED but also remains curious whether PnTx2-6 has the potential for treating female sexual dysfunction. If successful, research performed by Dr. Nunes and others may increase sales for the paternity testing kit industry.
Brazilian Wandering Spider
Known by scientists as Phoneutria nigriventer, the banana spider often hides in the banana-filled crates shipped to countless global destinations. Phoneutria means “murderess” in Greek, and scientists consider the venom of this species the most toxic of all spiders. Though limited in occurrence, the spider’s bite has created lethal consequences secondary to respiratory paralysis and subsequent suffocation.
Having a leg span of approximately four to five inches (13 to 15 centimeters) and bodies measuring one-half to almost two inches in length, the spiders are so named for their nighttime wandering along the jungle floor. During the day, unlike web-spinning arachnids, banana spiders hide in banana plants, bromeliads, termite mounds, or other dark, moist environments.