In one of the stranger medical discoveries of the last few decades, scientists found that injecting the deadly botulinum toxin into people’s faces can remove wrinkles and even help ease symptoms of many neuromuscular diseases. Botox, as one of the drugs derived from the botulinum toxin is known, has become one of the most in-demand cosmetic treatments around the world.
Despite being so popular, the mechanism behind the effects of Botox are still not well understood. Previous research has shown the Botox can bind to neurons in the brain. However, the method of transmission throughout the brain has been a mystery.
Now, a recent study has revealed some surprising finds behind the effects of these botulinum therapies. According to this new research published in Cell Reports, tetanus and botulinum neurotoxins such as Botox actually have the ability to jump between individual neurons in the brain.
This new finding might help explain some of the mysterious effects of Botox treatments. Ewa Bomba-Warczak, one of the researchers in this study, told Science Daily that until now, there hasn’t been a concrete explanation for how Botox treats neuromuscular disorders outside of direct injection sites:
In many cases, after an injection for a disabling spasm of neck muscles called cervical dystonia, there is no change in muscle tone but the patient finds relief and is perfectly happy. That result can’t be explained by the local effects.
Researchers discovered the new property of Botox by creating a set of artificial neural pathways using mouse brain cells. A series of microscopic channels was created, into which were inserted neurons that eventually grew axons – the hair-like extensions of nerve cells that allow them to communicate with one another and form neural networks.
Botulinum toxins were injected into one end of these axon channels, while the other was left unaffected. Researchers discovered that the toxins were able to “jump” from neuron to neuron, implying that Botox and other botulinum neurotoxins can be transmitted via transcytosis, or cellular transport:
These findings directly demonstrate that these agents undergo transcytosis and interneuronal transfer in an active form, resulting in long-distance effects.
Discovering this mechanism could allow for the development of powerful new drugs which can target specific neural networks. If Botox and other neurotoxins can enter the body via injection and travel from neuron to neuron, medical researchers might be able to design accurate drugs that target specific centers of the brain using genetically modified versions of these neurotoxins. While this might sound like the origin story out of a zombie movie, gene-editing techniques like CRISPR are already being tested in the creation of designer forms of viruses that might soon treat many as yet untreatable illnesses and diseases.