From poison to remedy: the chequered history of botulinum toxin

J Neural Transm (Vienna). 2008;115(4):559-65. doi: 10.1007/s00702-007-0728-2. Epub 2007 Apr 26.


Botulinum toxin poisoning has afflicted mankind through the mists of time. However, the first incident of food-borne botulism was documented as late as the 18th century, when the consumption of meat and blood sausages gave rise to many deaths throughout the kingdom of Württemberg in South Western Germany. The district medical officer Justinus Kerner (1786--1862), who was also a well-known German poet, published the first accurate and complete descriptions of the symptoms of food-borne botulism between 1817 and 1822 and attributed the intoxication to a biological poison. Kerner also postulated that the toxin might be used for treatment purposes. In 1895, an outbreak of botulism in the small Belgian village of Ellezelles led to the discovery of the pathogen "Clostridium botulinum" by Emile Pierre van Ermengem. Modern botulinum toxin treatment was pioneered by Alan B. Scott and Edward J. Schantz in the early 1970s, when the type-A serotype was used in medicine to correct strabismus. Other preparations of the type-A toxin were developed and manufactured in the United Kingdom, Germany, and China, whereas a therapeutic type-B toxin was prepared in the United States. To date, the toxin has been used to treat a wide variety of conditions associated with muscular hyperactivity, glandular hypersecretions and pain.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Portrait
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Dyskinesia Agents* / history
  • Anti-Dyskinesia Agents* / therapeutic use
  • Anti-Dyskinesia Agents* / toxicity
  • Botulinum Toxins* / history
  • Botulinum Toxins* / therapeutic use
  • Botulinum Toxins* / toxicity
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Poisons* / history
  • Poisons* / therapeutic use


  • Anti-Dyskinesia Agents
  • Poisons
  • Botulinum Toxins