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J Biomed Sci. 1999 Nov-Dec;6(6):368-75.

Looking back on the discovery of alpha-bungarotoxin.

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  • Department of Pharmacology, College of Medicine, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan, ROC.


This review is a personal narration by a retiring pharmacologist from Taiwan who looks back at his discovery of alpha-bungarotoxin from the historical perspective of Taiwan during the last 50 years, with accounts of his experiences and his efforts to overcome hardship. How the alpha-toxin was isolated and characterized as an irreversible specific nicotinic acetylcholine (ACh) receptor antagonist, and how it subsequently became a useful experimental probe are presented here. The dilemma of differentiating the actions of tubocurarine and alpha-bungarotoxin is analyzed. The author also outlines findings based on work done in his laboratory using alpha-bungarotoxin as a tool on particular aspects of synaptic transmission. These include presynaptic receptor for positive feedback of transmitter release, explosive release of ACh, up- and downregulation of ACh receptors after chronic drug treatment, autodesensitization of junctional ACh receptors, differences in action between natural transmitter and exogenous agonists and that between junctional and extrajunctional ACh receptors. Some experimental pitfalls, in which biomedical scientists are frequently trapped, are raised. Finally, some anecdotes are appended from which the reader may further understand scientific life in the 20th century, including its joys and regrets.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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