Black widow spider alpha-latrotoxin: a presynaptic neurotoxin that shares structural homology with the glucagon-like peptide-1 family of insulin secretagogic hormones

Comp Biochem Physiol B Biochem Mol Biol. 1998 Oct;121(2):177-84. doi: 10.1016/s0305-0491(98)10088-3.


alpha-Latrotoxin is a presynaptic neurotoxin isolated from the venom of the black widow spider Latrodectus tredecimguttatus. It exerts toxic effects in the vertebrate central nervous system by depolarizing neurons, by increasing [Ca2+]i and by stimulating uncontrolled exocytosis of neurotransmitters from nerve terminals. The actions of alpha-latrotoxin are mediated, in part, by a GTP-binding protein-coupled receptor referred to as CIRL or latrophilin. Exendin-4 is also a venom toxin, and it is derived from the salivary gland of the Gila monster Heloderma suspectum. It acts as an agonist at the receptor for glucagon-like peptide-1(7-36)-amide (GLP-1), thereby stimulating secretion of insulin from pancreatic beta-cells of the islets of Langerhans. Here is reported a surprising structural homology between alpha-latrotoxin and exendin-4 that is also apparent amongst all members of the GLP-1-like family of secretagogic hormones (GLP-1, glucagon, vasoactive intestinal polypeptide, secretin, pituitary adenylyl cyclase activating polypeptide). On the basis of this homology, we report the synthesis and initial characterization of a chimeric peptide (Black Widow GLP-1) that stimulates Ca2+ signaling and insulin secretion in human beta-cells and MIN6 insulinoma cells. It is also reported here that the GTP-binding protein-coupled receptors for alpha-latrotoxin and exendin-4 share highly significant structural similarity in their extracellularly-oriented amino-termini. We propose that molecular mimicry has generated conserved structural motifs in secretagogic toxins and their receptors, thereby explaining the evolution of defense or predatory strategies that are shared in common amongst distantly related species including spiders, lizards, and snakes. Evidently, the toxic effects of alpha-latrotoxin and exendin-4 are explained by their ability to interact with GTP-binding protein-coupled receptors that normally mediate the actions of endogenous hormones or neuropeptides.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Black Widow Spider / chemistry*
  • Black Widow Spider / genetics
  • Calcium Signaling / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Exenatide
  • Glucagon / chemistry*
  • Glucagon / genetics*
  • Glucagon / metabolism
  • Glucagon-Like Peptide 1
  • Glucagon-Like Peptide-1 Receptor
  • Humans
  • Insulin / metabolism
  • Insulin Secretion
  • Islets of Langerhans / metabolism
  • Molecular Mimicry
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Neurotoxins / chemistry*
  • Neurotoxins / genetics
  • Neurotoxins / toxicity
  • Peptide Fragments / chemistry*
  • Peptide Fragments / genetics*
  • Peptide Fragments / metabolism
  • Peptides / chemistry
  • Peptides / genetics
  • Protein Precursors / chemistry*
  • Protein Precursors / genetics*
  • Protein Precursors / metabolism
  • Receptors, Glucagon / metabolism
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Spider Venoms / chemistry*
  • Spider Venoms / genetics
  • Spider Venoms / toxicity
  • Venoms*


  • GLP1R protein, human
  • Glucagon-Like Peptide-1 Receptor
  • Insulin
  • Neurotoxins
  • Peptide Fragments
  • Peptides
  • Protein Precursors
  • Receptors, Glucagon
  • Spider Venoms
  • Venoms
  • alpha-latrotoxin
  • Glucagon-Like Peptide 1
  • Glucagon
  • Exenatide