Characterisation of the effects of robustoxin, the lethal neurotoxin from the Sydney funnel-web spider Atrax robustus, on sodium channel activation and inactivation

Pflugers Arch. 1998 Jun;436(1):117-26. doi: 10.1007/s004240050612.


The present study investigates the actions of robustoxin (atracotoxin-Ar1) purified from the venom of the male Sydney funnel-web spider Atrax robustus on sodium channel gating. Using whole-cell patch-clamp techniques the study assessed the actions of robustoxin on tetrodotoxin-resistant (TTX-R) and tetrodotoxin-sensitive (TTX-S) sodium currents in rat dorsal root ganglion cells. Similar to the closely related funnel-web spider toxin versutoxin (delta-atracotoxin-Hv1) from Hadronyche versuta, robustoxin had no effect on TTX-R sodium currents but exerted potent effects on TTX-S sodium currents. The main action of robustoxin was a concentration-dependent slowing or removal of TTX-S sodium current inactivation. This steady-state current was maintained during long-lasting depolarisations at all test potentials. Robustoxin (30 nM) also caused a 13-mV hyperpolarising shift in the voltage midpoint of steady-state sodium channel inactivation (h infinity) leading to a reduced peak current at a holding potential of -80 mV. Moreover there was a steady-state or non-inactivating component present (18% of maximal sodium current) at prepulse potentials that normally inactivate all TTX-S sodium channels (more depolarised than -40 mV). In addition robustoxin produced a significant increase in the repriming kinetics of the sodium channel when channels returned to the resting state following activation. This increase in the rate of recovery of sodium current appears to explain the use-dependent effects on peak sodium current amplitude at high stimulation frequencies. Finally 30 nM robustoxin caused an 11-mV hyperpolarising shift in the voltage dependence of the channel but did not markedly modify tail current kinetics. These actions suggest that robustoxin inhibits conversion of the open state to the inactivated state of TTX-S sodium channels, thus allowing a fraction of the sodium current to remain at membrane potentials at which inactivation is normally complete. Given the recent reclassification of funnel-web spider toxins as atracotoxins, robustoxin should henceforth be known as delta-atracotoxin-Ar1 to reflect this main action on sodium channel inactivation. These present results further support the hypothesis that funnel-web spider toxins interact with neurotoxin receptor site 3 to slow channel inactivation in a manner similar to that of alpha-scorpion and sea anemone toxins.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Drug Resistance
  • Electric Conductivity
  • Ganglia, Spinal / physiology
  • Kinetics
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Neurotoxins / pharmacology*
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Rats
  • Sodium Channels / physiology*
  • Spider Venoms / chemistry
  • Spider Venoms / pharmacology*
  • Tetrodotoxin / pharmacology


  • Neurotoxins
  • Sodium Channels
  • Spider Venoms
  • Tetrodotoxin
  • robustoxin