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Botulinum toxin

Botulinum toxin
Systematic (IUPAC) name
CAS number  ?
ATC code M03AX01
PubChem  ?
DrugBank BTD00092
Chemical data
Formula C6760H10447N1743O2010S32 
Mol. mass 149322.7 g/mol
Pharmacokinetic data
Bioavailability  ?
Metabolism  ?
Half life  ?
Excretion  ?
Therapeutic considerations
Pregnancy cat.


Legal status


Routes IM (approved),SC, intradermal, into glands

Botulinum toxin is a neurotoxin protein produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. It is one of the most poisonous naturally occurring substances in the world, and it is the most toxic protein.[1] Though it is highly toxic, it is used in minute doses both to treat painful muscle spasms, and as a cosmetic treatment in some parts of the world. It is sold commercially under the brand names Botox and Dysport for this purpose. The terms Botox and Dysport are trade names and are not used generically to describe the neurotoxins produced by the clostridia species.



Between 1817 and 1822 the German physician and poet Justinus Kerner described botulinium toxin, using the terms "sausage poison" and "fatty poison"[2], as this bacterium often causes poisoning by growing in badly handled or prepared meat products. He first conceived a possible therapeutic use of botulinium toxin. In 1870, Muller (another German physician) coined the name botulism, from Latin botulus = "sausage". In 1895, Emile Van Ermengem first isolated the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. In 1944, Edward Schantz cultured Clostridium botulinum and isolated the toxin, and, in 1949, Burgen's group discovered that botulinum toxin blocks neuromuscular transmission.

By 1973, Alan B Scott, MD, of Smith-Kettlewell Institute used botulinium toxin type A (BTX-A) in monkey experiments, and, in 1980, he officially used BTX-A for the first time in humans to treat strabismus. In December 1989, BTX-A (BOTOX) was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of strabismus, blepharospasm, and hemifacial spasm in patients over 12 years old. The cosmetic effect of BTX-A was initially described by ophthalmologist Jean Carruthers and dermatologist Alastair Carruthers, a husband-and-wife team working in Vancouver, Canada, although the effect had been observed by a number of independent groups. On April 15, 2002, the FDA announced the approval of botulinum toxin type A (BOTOX Cosmetic) to temporarily improve the appearance of moderate-to-severe frown lines between the eyebrows (glabellar lines). BTX-A has also been approved for the treatment of excessive underarm sweating. The acceptance of BTX-A use for the treatment of spasticity and muscle pain disorders is growing, with approvals pending in many European countries and studies on headaches (including migraine), prostatic symptoms, asthma, obesity and many other possible indications are ongoing.

Botox is manufactured by Allergan Inc (U.S.) for both therapeutic as well as cosmetic use. The formulation is best stored at cold temperature of 2-8 degrees Celsius. Dysport is a therapeutic formulation of the type A toxin developed and manufactured in Ireland and which is licenced for the treatment of focal dystonias and certain cosmetic uses in many territories world wide. Neuronox is a new type A toxin manufactured by Medy-Tox Inc (South Korea).

Botulinium Toxin Type B (BTX-B) received FDA approval for treatment of cervical dystonia on December 21, 2000. Trade names for BTX-B are Myobloc in the United States, and Neurobloc® in the European Union.

Medical uses

Researchers discovered in the 1950s that injecting overactive muscles with minute quantities of botulinum toxin type A decreased muscle activity by blocking the release of acetylcholine at the neuromuscular junction, thereby rendering the muscle unable to contract for a period of 4 to 6 months.

Alan Scott, a San Francisco ophthalmologist, first applied tiny doses of the toxin in a medicinal sense to treat 'crossed eyes' (strabismus) and 'uncontrollable blinking' (blepharospasm), but needed a partner to gain regulatory approval to market his discovery as a drug. Allergan, Inc., a pharmaceutical company that focused on prescription eye therapies and contact lens products, bought the rights to the drug in 1988 and received FDA approval in 1989. Allergan renamed the drug Botox.

Cosmetically desirable effects of Botox were quickly discovered thereafter when the frown lines between the eyebrows were observed to soften following treatment for eye muscle disorders, leading to clinical trials and subsequent FDA approval for cosmetic use in April 2002. As of 2006, Botox injection is the most common cosmetic operation in the United States.

Besides its cosmetic application, Botox is used in the treatment of

  • migraine headaches
  • cervical dystonia (spasmodic torticollis) (a neuromuscular disorder involving the head and neck)[3]
  • blepharospasm (involuntary blinking)[4]
  • severe primary axillary hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating)[5]
  • achalasia (failure of the lower esophageal sphincter to relax)

Other uses of botulinum toxin type A that are widely known but not specifically approved by FDA include treatment of:

  • pediatric incontinence[6], incontinence due to overactive bladder,[7] and incontinence due to neurogenic bladder.[8]
  • anal fissure[9]
  • spastic disorders associated with injury or disease of the central nervous system including trauma, stroke, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, or cerebral palsy
  • focal dystonias affecting the limbs, face, jaw, or vocal cords
  • TMJ pain disorders
  • diabetic neuropathy
  • wound healing
  • excessive salivation
  • Reduction of the Masseter muscle for decreasing the size of the lower jaw

In the Journal of Dermatologic Surgery, Eric Finzi claims to have treated clinically depressed patients with botox. On Good Morning America, he claimed that by taking away the ability to frown, he was somehow taking away the ability to feel depressed.[10]

Treatment and prevention of chronic headache[11] and chronic musculoskeletal pain[12] are emerging uses for botulinum toxin type A. In addition, there is evidence that Botox may aid in weight loss by increasing the gastric emptying time.[13]

Side effects

Side effects can be predicted from the mode of action (muscle paralysis) and chemical structure (protein) of the molecule, resulting broadly speaking in two major areas of side effects: paralysis of the wrong muscle group and allergic reaction. Bruising at the site of injection is a side effect not of the toxin, but rather the mode of administration. In cosmetic use, this means that the client will complain of inappropriate facial expression such as drooping eyelid, uneven smile, loss of ability to close the eye. This will wear off in around 6 weeks. Bruising is prevented by the clinician applying pressure to the injection site, but may still occur, and will last around 7 - 10 days. When injecting the masseter muscle of the jaw, loss of muscle function will result in a loss or reduction of power to chew solid foods. All cosmetic treatments are of limited duration, and can be as short a period as six weeks, but usually one reckons with an effective period of between 3 and 8 months. At the extremely low doses used medicinally, botulinum toxin has a very low degree of toxicity.

Chemical overview

There are seven serologically distinct toxin types, designated A through G; 3 subtypes of A have been described. The toxin is a two-chain polypeptide with a 100-kDa heavy chain joined by a disulfide bond to a 50-kDa light chain. This light chain is an enzyme (a protease) that attacks one of the fusion proteins (SNAP-25, syntaxin or synaptobrevin) at a neuromuscular junction, preventing vesicles from anchoring to the membrane to release acetylcholine. By inhibiting acetylcholine release, the toxin interferes with nerve impulses and causes flaccid (sagging) paralysis of muscles in botulism as opposite to the spastic paralysis seen in tetanus.

It is possibly the most acutely toxic substance known, with a median lethal dose of about 1 ng/kg[14], meaning that a few hundred grams could theoretically kill every human on earth (for perspective, the rat poison strychnine, often described as highly toxic, has an LD50 of 1,000,000 ng/kg, and it would take four hundred tons to kill every human).

It is also remarkably easy to come by: Clostridium spores are found in soil practically all over the earth.

Food-borne botulism usually results from ingestion of food that has become contaminated with spores (such as a perforated can) in an anaerobic environment, allowing the spores to germinate and grow. The growing (vegetative) bacteria produce toxin. It is the ingestion of preformed toxin that causes botulism, not ingestion of the spores or vegetative organism.

Infant (intestinal) and wound botulism both result from infection with spores which subsequently germinate, resulting in production of toxin and the symptoms of botulism.

The toxin itself is rapidly destroyed by heat, such as in thorough cooking.[15] However, the spores which produce the toxin are heat-tolerant and will survive boiling at 100 degrees Celsius for an extended period of time.

Chemical warfare

Botulin toxin is an inferior agent for chemical warfare since it degrades rapidly on exposure to air. An area attacked with toxic particulate would be safe to enter within about a day. The agent is so unstable that the medicinal form is shipped on dry ice. There are no documented cases of the toxin being used in warfare; however, it has been claimed to have been used in the Operation Anthropoid to kill top Nazi Reinhard Heydrich[16] and in "Operation Mongoose", where in 1961, the CIA saturated some cigars, of Fidel Castro's favorite brand, with botulinum toxin for a possible assassination attempt. The cigars were never used, but when tested years later were found still effective.[17] The notorious Japanese biological warfare group Unit 731 fed botulinum to prisoners during Japan's occupation of Manchuria in the 1930s.[18]

There has been concern over the use of botulin toxin as a terrorist weapon, but it appears not to be ideal for this purpose. The vials used therapeutically are considered impractical as weapons because each vial contains only an extremely small fraction of the lethal dose. Nor is home-growing very viable; the bacterium in question is anaerobic and grows poorly in the presence of oxygen. This would make it difficult for terrorists to produce the toxin in bulk without specialized microbiological expertise.

The toxin's properties caught the attention of the Aum Supreme Truth cult in Japan, who set up a plant for its bulk production. Though, their subway attacks used the nerve agent sarin instead because of its easy dispersal and faster-acting properties.

It has been revealed that the CIA made attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro with several botulinum toxin pills placed in his drinks. The attempts failed when the operatives pulled out of the operation.[citation needed]

Biochemical mechanism of toxicity

  The heavy chain of the toxin is particularly important for targeting the toxin to specific types of axon terminals. The toxin must get inside the axon terminals in order to cause paralysis. Following the attachment of the toxin heavy chain to proteins on the surface of axon terminals, the toxin can be taken into neurons by endocytosis. The light chain is able to leave endocytotic vesicles and reach the cytoplasm. The light chain of the toxin has protease activity. The type A toxin proteolytically degrades the SNAP-25 protein, a type of SNARE protein. The SNAP-25 protein is required for the release of neurotransmitters from the axon endings.[19] Botulinum toxin specifically cleaves these SNAREs, and so prevents neuro-secretory vesicles from docking/fusing with the nerve synapse plasma membrane and releasing their neurotransmitters.

Though it affects the nervous system, common nerve agent treatments (namely the injection of atropine and 2-pam-chloride) will increase mortality by enhancing botulin toxin's mechanism of toxicity. Attacks involving botulinum toxin are distinguishable from those involving nerve agent in that NBC detection equipment (such as M-8 paper or the ICAM) will not indicate a "positive" when a sample of the agent is tested. Furthermore, botulism symptoms develop relatively slowly, over several days compared to nerve agent effects, which can be instantaneous.


On July 2, 1971 the FDA released a public warning after learning that a New York man had died and his wife had become seriously ill due to botulism after eating a can of Bon Vivant vichyssoise soup. The company began a recall of the 6,444 cans of vichyssoise soup made in the same batch as the can known to be contaminated. The FDA discovered that the company’s processing practices raised questions not only about these lots of the vichyssoise, but also about all other products packed by the company. The effectiveness check of the recall had revealed a number of swollen or otherwise suspect cans among Bon Vivant’s other products, so FDA extended the recall to include all Bon Vivant products. The FDA shut down the company’s Newark, New Jersey plant on July 7, 1971. Although only five cans of Bon Vivant soup were found to be contaminated with the botulin toxin, all in the initial batch of vichyssoise recalled and part of the first 324 cans tested. The ordeal destroyed public confidence in the company’s products and the Bon Vivant name. Bon Vivant filed for bankruptcy within a month of the announcement of the recall. [20]

Treatment of botulinum poisoning

The case fatality rate for botulinum poisoning between 1950 and 1996 was 15.5%, down from approximately 60% over the previous 50 years.[21] Death is generally secondary to respiratory failure due to paralysis of the respiratory muscles, so treatment consists of antitoxin administration and artificial ventilation. If initiated on time, these are quite effective. Occasionally, functional recovery may take several weeks to months.

There are two primary Botulinum Antitoxins available for treatment of botulism.

  • Trivalent (A,B,E) Botulinum Antitoxin is derived from equine sources utilizing whole antibodies (Fab & Fc portions). This antitoxin is available from the local health department via the CDC.
  • The second antitoxin is Heptavalent (A,B,C,D,E,F,G) Botulinum Antitoxin which is derived from "despeciated" equine IgG antibodies which have had the Fc portion cleaved off leaving the F(ab')2 portions. This is a less immunogenic antitoxin that is effective against all known strains of botulism where not contraindicated. This is available from the US Army. On June 1, 2006 the US Department of Health and Human Services awarded a $363 million contract with Cangene Corporation for 200,000 doses of Heptavalent Botulinum Antitoxin over five years for delivery into the Strategic National Stockpile beginning in 2007.[22]


  1. ^ Montecucco C, Molgó J (2005). "Botulinal neurotoxins: revival of an old killer". Current opinion in pharmacology 5 (3): 274-9. doi:10.1016/j.coph.2004.12.006. PMID 15907915.
  2. ^ Frank J. Erbguth (2004). "Historical notes on botulism, Clostridium botulinum, botulinum toxin, and the idea of the therapeutic use of the toxin". Movement Disorders 19 (S8): S2-S6. Movement Disorder Society (Wiley).
  3. ^ Brin MF, Lew MF, Adler CH, Comella CL, Factor SA, Jankovic J, O'Brien C, Murray JJ, Wallace JD, Willmer-Hulme A, Koller M (1999). "Safety and efficacy of NeuroBloc (botulinum toxin type B) in type A-resistant cervical dystonia". Neurology 53 (7): 1431-8. PMID 10534247.
  4. ^ Shukla HD, Sharma SK (2005). "Clostridium botulinum: a bug with beauty and weapon". Crit. Rev. Microbiol. 31 (1): 11-8. PMID 15839401.
  5. ^ Eisenach JH, Atkinson JL, Fealey RD (2005). "Hyperhydrosis: evolving therapies for a well-established phenomenon". Mayo Clin. Proc. 80 (5): 657-66. PMID 15887434.
  6. ^ Schurch B, Corcos J (2005). "Botulinum toxin injections for paediatric incontinence". Current opinion in urology 15 (4): 264-7. PMID 15928517.
  7. ^ Duthie J, Wilson D, Herbison G, Wilson D (2007). "Botulinum toxin injections for adults with overactive bladder syndrome." 3: CD005493. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD005493.pub2. PMID 17636801.
  8. ^ Akbar M, Abel R, Seyler TM, Gerner HJ, Möhring K (2007). "Repeated botulinum-A toxin injections in the treatment of myelodysplastic children and patients with spinal cord injuries with neurogenic bladder dysfunction.". BJU Int. 100 (3): 639-45. doi:10.1111/j.1464-410X.2007.06977.x. PMID 17532858.
  9. ^ Trzciński R, Dziki A, Tchórzewski M (2002). "Injections of botulinum A toxin for the treatment of anal fissures". The European journal of surgery = Acta chirurgica 168 (12): 720-3. PMID 15362583.
  10. ^ ABC News: Can Botox Cure Depression?. Retrieved on 2007-08-14.
  11. ^ Panicker JN, Muthane UB (2003). "Botulinum toxins: pharmacology and its current therapeutic evidence for use". Neurology India 51 (4): 455-60. PMID 14742921.
  12. ^ Charles PD (2004). "Botulinum neurotoxin serotype A: a clinical update on non-cosmetic uses". American journal of health-system pharmacy : AJHP : official journal of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists 61 (22 Suppl 6): S11-23. PMID 15598005.
  13. ^ Coskun H, Duran Y, Dilege E, Mihmanli M, Seymen H, Demirkol MO (2005). "Effect on gastric emptying and weight reduction of botulinum toxin-A injection into the gastric antral layer: an experimental study in the obese rat model". Obesity surgery : the official journal of the American Society for Bariatric Surgery and of the Obesity Surgery Society of Australia and New Zealand 15 (8): 1137-43. doi:10.1381/0960892055002275. PMID 16197786.
  14. ^ By Diane O. Fleming, Debra Long Hunt. Biological Safety: principles and practices. ASM Press, 2000, p. 267.
  15. ^ Thermal inactivation of Botulinum toxin
  16. ^ - Medium Brigade Flaws, and the Cure The IBCT Revisited. Retrieved on 2007-08-14.
  17. ^ - Castro report. Retrieved on 2007-08-14.
  18. ^ JAMA -- Botulinum Toxin as a BioWeapon: Medical and Public Health Management, February 28, 2001, Arnon et al. 285 (8): 1059. Retrieved on 2007-08-14.
  19. ^ Foran PG, Mohammed N, Lisk GO, et al (2003). "Evaluation of the therapeutic usefulness of botulinum neurotoxin B, C1, E, and F compared with the long lasting type A. Basis for distinct durations of inhibition of exocytosis in central neurons". J. Biol. Chem. 278 (2): 1363-71. doi:10.1074/jbc.M209821200. PMID 12381720.
  20. ^ "An Examination of FDA’s Recall Authority", Harvard Law School. Retrieved on 2007-09-25. "The incident did not take a toll only on the company, however. Bon Vivant did not have adequate records and controls of production lots and distribution in order to trace the products quickly. The company also did not have the finances or manpower necessary to run a successful recall program. As a result, the FDA had to seize all the Bon Vivant soup throughout the country, more than a million cans in all. FDA said the seizure occupied 125 man years of FDA time, enough for 2,000 ordinary factory inspections for preventive purposes." 
  21. ^ Disease Listing, Botulism Manual, Additional Information. Retrieved on 2007-08-14.
  22. ^ FEMA. Retrieved on 2007-08-14.

See also

  • Bon Vivant Soup Company
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Botulinum_toxin". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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