Evolutionary trends in venom composition in the western rattlesnakes (Crotalus viridis sensu lato): toxicity vs. tenderizers

Toxicon. 2010 Jul;55(8):1463-74. doi: 10.1016/j.toxicon.2010.02.028. Epub 2010 Mar 12.


The Western Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis sensu lato, now including Crotalus oreganus) is broadly distributed across the western half of the United States, northwestern Mexico and southwestern Canada, and eight subspecies are currently recognized. Although some venom characteristics have been noted for most subspecies, a systematic study of venoms from all subspecies has not been reported. Venom was extracted from snakes collected from approximate geographic range centers for all subspecies and analyzed using SDS-PAGE, MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry, enzyme and toxicity assays. Electrophoretic and mass spectrometric analyses demonstrated that small myotoxins, disintegrins and PLA(2) were abundant in most venoms. PIII and PI metalloproteinases ( approximately 54 kDa and 23 kDa, respectively) were common to all venoms except C. o. concolor, C. o. caliginis and C.o. helleri. Metalloproteinase activity was highest in C. o. cerberus and lowest in C. o. concolor venoms ( approximately 100-fold difference). Conversely, C. o. concolor venom was the most toxic and C. o. cerberus venom was least toxic (15-fold difference). In general, venoms with high metalloproteinase activity were less toxic (type I venoms), while venoms which were highly toxic showed low protease activity (type II venoms). Within the C. viridis/oreganus complex, these two extremes of venom compositional phenotypes are observed, and it appears that high metalloproteinase activity and high toxicity are incompatible qualities of these venoms. The functional significance of these biochemical characteristics likely relates to characteristics of prey consumed, and venoms with low metalloproteinase activity may constrain snake prey selection or foraging activity patterns.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Crotalid Venoms / chemistry*
  • Crotalid Venoms / enzymology
  • Crotalid Venoms / toxicity*
  • Crotalus / physiology*
  • Electrophoresis
  • Electrophoresis, Polyacrylamide Gel
  • Female
  • Lethal Dose 50
  • Metalloproteases / analysis
  • Mice
  • Neurotoxins / chemistry
  • Neurotoxins / toxicity
  • North America
  • Phospholipases A2 / analysis
  • Species Specificity
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption-Ionization


  • Crotalid Venoms
  • Neurotoxins
  • Phospholipases A2
  • Metalloproteases