MÉRIDA.- The poisonous substance of the lionfish, an invasive species that prevails on the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, is studied by Yucatecan scientists to understand the process of Alzheimer’s disease.
In addition to the gastronomic use of this harmful and exotic marine species, now specialists from the Mérida Unit of the Center for Research and Advanced Studies (Cinvestav) study the toxins in the spines, to identify their interaction with the neurotransmission mechanism related to this pathology.
In 1992, specimens of lionfish were released off the coast of Florida, causing the fish to spread as an invasive species in waters of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and western Atlantic.
The reproductive and adaptive capacity of this exotic species, as well as the fact that its main predators are not present in the invaded areas, have contributed to its uncontrolled proliferation.
Although its presence in the Gulf of Mexico and the Mexican Caribbean is considered harmful and its difficulty in stopping its invasion into the environment has been recognized, various research groups have shown interest in studying it.
Such is the case of Mayra Pamela Becerra Amezcua, postdoctoral researcher; Carlos Puch Hau, associate researcher, and Reyna Cristina Collí Dulá, researcher of the Conacyt Chair program, attached to the Department of Marine Resources of Cinvestav Mérida, who work in the Biotechnology and Molecular Toxicology laboratory.
They recognize that, although this invasive species represents a danger for the endemic fish of the area, the lionfish is a very peculiar and interesting organism for its study, because it presents biological characteristics that have helped its survival and reproduction in different environments.
Among these characteristics, some toxins of lionfish spines’ venom stand out, which are an important source of molecules that can be used as molecular tools to understand different human pathologies.
Cinvestav researchers have linked the toxins in this venom to the study of Alzheimer’s disease, by analyzing their effect on nicotinic-type acetylcholine receptors, as it is mentioned on a postdoctoral project by Pamela Becerra.
The specialist commented that acetylcholine is one of the main neurotransmitters of the nervous system, that is, it is a biomolecule that allows the transmission of information from one neuron to another.
Being involved in different functions of the body, such as the voluntary movement of muscles, activities of the autonomic nervous system and even in attention and learning processes, so low levels of this neurotransmitter are associated with Alzheimer’s symptoms.
Using immunofluorescence techniques, electrophysiological analysis and expression of some genes related to the expression of the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, the researchers, in collaboration with Arisai Hernández Sámano and Manuel Aguilar Ramírez, from UNAM, studied the effects of lionfish venom on dopaminergic and cholinergic systems using different model organisms.
To do this, in their research they used zebrafish as a model for analysis, where they studied the development of antibodies that could be associated with the effect of receptors that are linked to venom and found that lionfish toxins affect dopaminergic neurons and that have an inhibitory effect on certain human (alpha3 beta2) and zebrafish (alpha 2) neuronal receptors.
“That tells us that there is an interaction (of the venom) with acetylcholine receptors expressed in the zebrafish embryos studied. Based on this data, scientists deduct how it is that other toxins, coming from the venom of other organisms, also interact with the neurotransmission of acetylcholine, ”said Collí Dulá.
These results could be of great help to study Alzheimer’s, since the increase in the activity of the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, linked to the neurotransmission of acetylcholine, is related to the development of this disease.
So analyzing the toxins in the lionfish venom could help better understand how this neurodegenerative condition presents itself.
“The effects of lionfish venom are similar to what occurs in Alzheimer’s disease, attributed to increased activity of acetylcholinesterase. Consequently, with the results of this study, we can begin to develop an investigation on the interactions of toxins isolated from marine poisons for medical analysis purposes ”, explained the researchers from Cinvestav Mérida.
This is a great example of how the scientific analysis of an environmental problem can lead to new knowledge that can be used for the benefit of the population in areas such as medicine.