The structure and mode of action of different botulinum toxins


J. Oliver Dolly, International Centre for Neurotherapeutics, Dublin City University, Glasnevin, Dublin 9, Ireland (tel.: +353 (0) 1 700 7757; fax: +353 (0) 1 700 7758; e-mail:


The seven serotypes (A–G) of botulinum neurotoxin (BoNT) are proteins produced by Clostridium botulinum and have multifunctional abilities: (i) they target cholinergic nerve endings via binding to ecto-acceptors (ii) they undergo endocytosis/translocation and (iii) their light chains act intraneuronally to block acetylcholine release. The fundamental process of quantal transmitter release occurs by Ca2+-regulated exocytosis involving sensitive factor attachment protein-25 (SNAP-25), syntaxin and synaptobrevin. Proteolytic cleavage by BoNT-A of nine amino acids from the C-terminal of SNAP-25 disables its function, causing prolonged muscle weakness. This unique combination of activities underlies the effectiveness of BoNT-A haemagglutinin complex in treating human conditions resulting from hyperactivity at peripheral cholinergic nerve endings. In vivo imaging and immunomicroscopy of murine muscles injected with type A toxin revealed that the extended duration of action results from the longevity of its protease, persistence of the cleaved SNAP-25 and a protracted time course for the remodelling of treated nerve–muscle synapses. In addition, an application in pain management has been indicated by the ability of BoNT to inhibit neuropeptide release from nociceptors, thereby blocking central and peripheral pain sensitization processes. The widespread cellular distribution of SNAP-25 and the diversity of the toxin's neuronal acceptors are being exploited for other therapeutic applications.