Fire ant venom could one day be used to treat skin conditions

Psoriasis is an autoimmune skin disease that is typically treated with topical steroids.
By Dirk Trudeau | Sep 13, 2017
Researchers from Emory and Case Western University have discovered that certain compounds found in fire ant venom could help reduce the skin thickening and inflammation that comes with psoriasis,according to new research inScientific Reports.

Psoriasis is an autoimmune skin disease that is typically treated with topical steroids. While the medication works, it usually comes with many rough side effects, including skin thinning and bruising.

To get around such problems, the team in the study used mouse models of psoriasis to test the compound solenopsin, which acts as the main toxic component in fire ant venom. Though this may seem like an odd remedy, the looked at the ants because their venom chemically resembles ceramides, the lipid-like molecules that help maintain the barrier function of skin.

In the study, researchers created a pair of ceramide-like solenopsin analogs that are able to convert ceramides into an inflammatory molecule while also not degrading into sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P). The team then administered two creams -- an active one and a control -- to the rodents over a 28 day period.

The results showed that mice given the active cream had 50 percent fewer immune cells infiltrate their skin and 30 percent less decreased skin thickness when compared to the control group. Not only that, but when they applied the compound to immune cells in a culture it decreased the cells' production of the inflammatory signal IL-22 and increased production of anti-inflammatory IL-12.

"We believe that solenopsin analogs are contributing to full restoration of the barrier function in the skin," said lead author Dr. Jack Arbiser, a professor of dermatology at Emory University School of Medicine, according to UPI. "Emollients can soothe the skin in psoriasis, but they are not sufficient for restoration of the barrier."

The study showed that the analogs turned down genes that are turned up by current treatments. As a result, the new compound could lead to easier and more effective skin treatment in the future and may provide a way to eliminate harmful side effects.

However, the study is still in its early stages. While the results of the research are promising, more trials need to be run to see if there are any other long-term effects that come with using the venom compounds.

'The findings are not at a stage where we can determine how clinically relevant these observations are or will be in the treatment of psoriasis," said Dr Anjali Mahto, consultant dermatologist and spokesperson for the British Skin Foundation who was not involved in the study, according to Daily Mail UK.


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