Botulinum toxin: bioweapon & magic drug

Indian J Med Res. 2010 Nov;132(5):489-503.


Botulinum neurotoxins, causative agents of botulism in humans, are produced by Clostridium botulinum, an anaerobic spore-former Gram positive bacillus. Botulinum neurotoxin poses a major bioweapon threat because of its extreme potency and lethality; its ease of production, transport, and misuse; and the need for prolonged intensive care among affected persons. A single gram of crystalline toxin, evenly dispersed and inhaled, can kill more than one million people. The basis of the phenomenal potency of botulinum toxin is enzymatic; the toxin is a zinc proteinase that cleaves neuronal vesicle associated proteins responsible for acetylcholine release into the neuromuscular junction. As a military or terrorist weapon, botulinum toxin could be disseminated via aerosol or by contamination of water or food supplies, causing widespread casualties. A fascinating aspect of botulinum toxin research in recent years has been development of the most potent toxin into a molecule of significant therapeutic utility . It is the first biological toxin which is licensed for treatment of human diseases. In the late 1980s, Canada approved use of the toxin to treat strabismus, in 2001 in the removal of facial wrinkles and in 2002, the FDA in the United States followed suit. The present review focuses on both warfare potential and medical uses of botulinum neurotoxin.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Warfare Agents*
  • Botulinum Toxins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Botulinum Toxins / genetics
  • Botulinum Toxins / pharmacology*
  • Botulinum Toxins / toxicity*
  • Botulism / epidemiology*
  • Botulism / physiopathology*
  • Botulism / prevention & control
  • Clostridium botulinum / chemistry*
  • Dyskinesias / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Spasm / drug therapy
  • Strabismus / drug therapy


  • Biological Warfare Agents
  • Botulinum Toxins