Sea anemone (Cnidaria, Anthozoa, Actiniaria) toxins: an overview

Mar Drugs. 2012 Aug;10(8):1812-1851. doi: 10.3390/md10081812. Epub 2012 Aug 22.


The Cnidaria phylum includes organisms that are among the most venomous animals. The Anthozoa class includes sea anemones, hard corals, soft corals and sea pens. The composition of cnidarian venoms is not known in detail, but they appear to contain a variety of compounds. Currently around 250 of those compounds have been identified (peptides, proteins, enzymes and proteinase inhibitors) and non-proteinaceous substances (purines, quaternary ammonium compounds, biogenic amines and betaines), but very few genes encoding toxins were described and only a few related protein three-dimensional structures are available. Toxins are used for prey acquisition, but also to deter potential predators (with neurotoxicity and cardiotoxicity effects) and even to fight territorial disputes. Cnidaria toxins have been identified on the nematocysts located on the tentacles, acrorhagi and acontia, and in the mucous coat that covers the animal body. Sea anemone toxins comprise mainly proteins and peptides that are cytolytic or neurotoxic with its potency varying with the structure and site of action and are efficient in targeting different animals, such as insects, crustaceans and vertebrates. Sea anemones toxins include voltage-gated Na⁺ and K⁺ channels toxins, acid-sensing ion channel toxins, Cytolysins, toxins with Kunitz-type protease inhibitors activity and toxins with Phospholipase A2 activity. In this review we assessed the phylogentic relationships of sea anemone toxins, characterized such toxins, the genes encoding them and the toxins three-dimensional structures, further providing a state-of-the-art description of the procedures involved in the isolation and purification of bioactive toxins.

Keywords: Cnidaria; phylogeny; sea anemone; toxin; toxin gene.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Marine Toxins / chemistry
  • Marine Toxins / isolation & purification*
  • Marine Toxins / toxicity
  • Phylogeny
  • Sea Anemones / chemistry*


  • Marine Toxins