Destruction of Mammalian Motor Nerve Terminals by Black Widow Spider Venom

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Science  14 May 1971:
Vol. 172, Issue 3984, pp. 733-736
DOI: 10.1126/science.172.3984.733


Black widow spider venom selectively poisons motor nerve endings. A progressive and irreversible failure of neuromuscular transmission occurs in the cat. Electron microscopy of the poisoned nerve-muscle junction shows a sequence of motor nerve ending damage that culminates in disruption of the prejunctional membrane and loss of all organelles, including synaptic vesicles. The postjunctional membrane was morphologically unaffected. After complete poisoning, the contractile response to exogenous acetylcholine was severely impaired, an indication that the prejunctional site is chiefly involved in the contractile response produced by exogenous acetylcholine and that the pre- and postjunctional effects of acetylcholine were separated.