Centipedes are among the oldest extant terrestrial arthropods and are an ecologically important group of soil and leaf litter predators. Despite their abundance and frequent, often painful, encounters with humans, little is known about the venom and venom apparatus of centipedes, although it is apparent that these are both quite different from other venomous lineages. The venom gland can be regarded as an invaginated cuticle and epidermis, consisting of numerous epithelial secretory units each with its own unique valve-like excretory system. The venom contains several different enzymes, but is strikingly different to most other arthropods in that metalloproteases appear to be important. Myotoxic, cardiotoxic, and neurotoxic activities have been described, most of which have been attributed to high molecular weight proteins. Neurotoxic activities are also unusual in that G-protein coupled receptors often seem to be involved, either directly as targets of neurotoxins or indirectly by activating endogenous agonists. These relatively slow responses may be complemented by the rapid effects caused by histamines present in the venom and from endogenous release of histamines induced by venom cytotoxins. The differences probably reflect the ancient and independent evolutionary history of the centipede venom system, although they may also be somewhat exaggerated by the paucity of information available on this largely neglected group.
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