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J Proteome Res. 2008 Aug;7(8):3556-71. doi: 10.1021/pr800332p. Epub 2008 Jun 17.

Snake venomics of the lancehead pitviper Bothrops asper: geographic, individual, and ontogenetic variations.

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  • 1Instituto Clodomiro Picado, Universidad de Costa Rica, San José, Costa Rica.


We report the comparative proteomic characterization of the venoms of adult and newborn specimens of the lancehead pitviper Bothrops asper from two geographically isolated populations from the Caribbean and the Pacific versants of Costa Rica. The crude venoms were fractionated by reverse-phase HPLC, followed by analysis of each chromatographic fraction by SDS-PAGE, N-terminal sequencing, MALDI-TOF mass fingerprinting, and collision-induced dissociation tandem mass spectrometry of tryptic peptides. The two B. asper populations, separated since the late Miocene or early Pliocene (8-5 mya) by the Guanacaste Mountain Range, Central Mountain Range, and Talamanca Mountain Range, contain both identical and different (iso)enzymes from the PLA 2, serine proteinase, and SVMP families. Using a similarity coefficient, we estimate that the similarity of venom proteins between the two B. asper populations may be around 52%. Compositional differences between venoms among different geographic regions may be due to evolutionary environmental pressure acting on isolated populations. To investigate venom variability among specimens from the two B. asper populations, the reverse-phase HPLC protein profiles of 15 venoms from Caribbean specimens and 11 venoms from snakes from Pacific regions were compared. Within each B. asper geographic populations, all major venom protein families appeared to be subjected to individual variations. The occurrence of intraspecific individual allopatric variability highlights the concept that a species, B. asper in our case, should be considered as a group of metapopulations. Analysis of pooled venoms of neonate specimens from Caribbean and Pacific regions with those of adult snakes from the same geographical habitat revealed prominent ontogenetic changes in both geographical populations. Major ontogenetic changes appear to be a shift from a PIII-SVMP-rich to a PI-SVMP-rich venom and the secretion in adults of a distinct set of PLA 2 molecules than in the neonates. In addition, the ontogenetic venom composition shift results in increasing venom complexity, indicating that the requirement for the venom to immobilize prey and initiate digestion may change with the size (age) of the snake. Besides ecological and taxonomical implications, the geographical venom variability reported here may have an impact in the treatment of bite victims and in the selection of specimens for antivenom production. The occurrence of intraspecies variability in the biochemical composition and symptomatology after envenomation by snakes from different geographical location and age has long been appreciated by herpetologist and toxinologists, though detailed comparative proteomic analysis are scarce. Our study represents the first detailed characterization of individual and ontogenetic venom protein profile variations in two geographical isolated B. asper populations, and highlights the necessity of using pooled venoms as a statistically representative venom for antivenom production.

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