Healing rituals and sacred serpents

Lancet. 1992 Jul 25;340(8813):223-5. doi: 10.1016/0140-6736(92)90480-q.


Votive tablets found during the excavation of shrines of the Graeco-Roman god of medicine (Asklepios or Aesculapius) associate the healing of superficial lesions with contact with the oral cavity of non-poisonous serpents. We suggest that this may have been the empirical exploitation of the healing properties of salivary growth factors. By immunohistochemistry and immunoblotting we demonstrate the expression of the epidermal growth factor and its receptor in the oral, upper digestive, and salivary epithelia of Elaphe quatuorlineata, a species probably used in healing rituals.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Colubridae / metabolism
  • Epidermal Growth Factor / analysis
  • Greece, Ancient
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Medicine, Traditional / history*
  • Rome
  • Salivary Glands / metabolism
  • Salivary Proteins and Peptides / analysis
  • Salivary Proteins and Peptides / therapeutic use
  • Snakes*


  • Salivary Proteins and Peptides
  • Epidermal Growth Factor