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Fish venom: pharmacological features and biological significance


Gisha Sivan, Department of Marine Biology, Microbiology and Biochemistry, Cochin University of Science and Technology, Kerala, India 682016
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Nearly 1200 species of marine fish are venomous and they account for two-third of the population of venomous vertebrates. Fish venoms are focused as a potential source of pharmacological agents and physiological tools that have evolved to target vital processes in the human body that appear to have more electivity than many drugs. Fish venoms possess cardiovascular, neuromuscular, oedematic and cytolytic activity. Lethal toxins have been isolated and purified, with some having LD50 values comparable to that of snake venoms. Cardiovascular activity seems to be the dominant effect of fish venoms in experimental models. Piscine venom acts both pre- and post-junctionally to produce depolarization of cell membranes. Studies on cytolytic activity of fish venom found that it produces lysis by forming hydrophilic pores in cell membranes which then result in cell lysis. Almost all fish venoms with neuromuscular activity also possesses cytolytic activity, and it is very likely that the two activities are related. Fish venom is known to induce intense and sustained edematogenic response. As piscine venoms have evolved for the same purpose, they show a number of similarities pharmacologically and it seems likely that most of the biological activities of any given toxin can be traced back to its cytolytic activity. A variety of toxins have been isolated from piscine venom. Although there is a complex balance between the components present in the venom of different fish, all of them seem to share similar activity – functionally and pharmacologically as well as structurally.