Discovery of the mechanism of tetanus toxin that opens up a new approach to treatment


Characterized by muscle spasms, tetanus is a serious disease that has killed millions of people throughout history. Produced by Clostridium tetani, tetanus toxin is an anaerobic bacterium that can infect minor and severe wounds along with the necrotic areas within them.

In collaboration with a team coordinated by Dr. Ivica Matak of the University of Zagreb, a research group from Padua has discovered that the molecular mechanism responsible for this atypical flaccid paralysis is an unexpected activity of the tetanus toxin at the level of the neuromuscular junction, the synapse that controls muscle contraction.

This discovery occurred during the development of an in vivo visualization technique of the tetanus toxin activity inside the neuron by Prof. Ornella Rossetto of the University of Padua.

The team also observed that the toxin rapidly migrated to the brain stem and inhibited a number of key physiological functions such as breathing and swallowing, thus causing the disease to rapidly turn fatal.

Published in Journal of Clinical Investigation Insight, the results of the work entitled Facial neuromuscular junctions and brainstem nuclei are the target of tetanus neurotoxin in cephalic tetanus, offer a new therapeutic approach that could considerably reduce the danger of cephalic tetanus.