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Ann Emerg Med. 2001 Feb;37(2):154-60.

Red-back spider (Latrodectus hasselti) antivenom prevents the toxicity of widow spider venoms.

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Department of Health Sciences, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia.



Widow spiders of the genus Latrodectus are found worldwide and produce similar clinical envenomation syndromes. In Australia, red-back spider antivenom (RBS-AV) is effective therapy for Latrodectus hasselti envenomation and it has been reported to reverse envenomation by other widow spiders. This study assessed the efficacy of RBS-AV in preventing in vitro and in vivo toxicity of widow spider venoms of North America and Europe.


The binding of RBS-AV to alpha-latrotoxin and Latrodectus venoms (Latrodectus spp mactans, hesperus, lugubris, tredecimguttatus, hasselti) was assayed using Western blotting. Prevention of in vitro toxicity to alpha-latrotoxin and the same venoms was tested by pretreating an isolated chick biventer cervicis nerve-muscle preparation with RBS-AV. Prevention of in vivo toxicity was determined by a lethality study in male Balb/c mice (2.5 to 5x median lethal dose [LD50]) or alpha-latrotoxin (10x LD50) preincubated with antivenom or without RBS-AV (control).


In Western blots, RBS-AV bound to alpha-latrotoxin and similar widow spider proteins in all venoms tested, indicating antigenic similarity with proteins found in RBS venom. Antivenom prevented the typical in vitro muscle contracture and loss of twitch tension seen with alpha-latrotoxin and the venoms tested. Control mice rapidly developed signs of envenomation, but mice treated with RBS-AV remained free of signs of envenomation.


RBS-AV prevented both in vitro and in vivo toxicity from Latrodectus venoms and alpha-latrotoxin in mice. These data suggest that RBS-AV may be clinically effective in the treatment of envenomation resulting from the bite of other widow spiders.

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