Disorders of neuromuscular transmission due to natural environmental toxins
A variety of natural toxins of animal, plant, and bacterial origin are capable of causing disorders of neuromuscular transmission. Animal toxins include venomous snakes and arthropods, venoms of certain marine creatures, skin secretions of dart-poison frogs, and poisonous fish, shellfish, and crabs. There are plant poisons such as curare, and bacterial poisons such as botulinum toxin. These act at single or multiple sites of the neuromuscular apparatus interfering with voltage-gated ion channels, acetylcholine release, depolarization of the postsynaptic membrane, or generation and spread of the muscle action potential. The specific actions of these toxins are being widely exploited in the study of neuromuscular physiology and pathology. Some toxins have proved to be valuable pharmaceutical agents. Poisoning by natural neurotoxins is an important public health hazard in many parts of the world, particularly in the tropics. Poisoning may occur by a bite or a sting of a venomous animal, or by the ingestion of poisonous fish, shellfish or other marine delicacies. Contaminated food is a vehicle for poisons such as botulinum toxin. Clinically, a cardinal feature in the symptomatology is muscle paralysis with a distribution characteristic of myasthenia gravis, affecting muscles innervated by cranial nerves, neck flexors, proximal limb muscles, and respiratory muscles. Respiratory paralysis may end fatally. This paper reviews from the clinical and pathophysiologic viewpoints, naturally occurring environmental neurotoxins acting at the neuromuscular junction.