Uses for botulinum toxin
Clinical Applications of Clostridium botulinum
Botulinum toxin is produced by anaerobic Clostridium botulinum bacteria and causes a paralysis called botulism. It was known as a deadly form of food poisoning but while this toxin is one of the deadliest on the planet, it also has a variety of clinical indications. In the 1950’s doctors discovered that injecting overactive muscles with small doses of toxin resulted in reduced muscle activity by blocking the release of acetylcholine at the neuromuscular junction3 and thus weakening the affected muscle for 4-6 months. It has since developed into a therapeutic tool. Since its discovery as a muscle inhibitor a variety of uses have been found for botulinum toxin ranging from cosmetic and medicinal aids to biological weapons. The most popular and recognizable use is a cosmetic injectable form (Botox or Dysport) that reduces wrinkles and signs of aging in the face. Local injection of botulinum toxin is also used to treat excessive sweating, cervical and laryngeal dystonia, excessive blinking and crossed eyes, Tardive dystonia, as well as other disorders of the central nervous system which result in lack of muscle control such as Parkinson’s, stroke and multiple sclerosis2. Botulinum toxin is the most common treatment for symptoms of movement disorders2 such as spasmodic torticollis, tics, tremors and dysphonia. Botulinum Toxin A has been effective in treating migraines and headaches and has been shown to improve gait patterns in patients with cerebral palsy who suffer from foot deformities4. Botulinum toxin has a multitude of medical uses but it must used carefully and with control to avoid permanent paralysis or poisoning.
Botulinum toxin has some unfavorable indications as well. Due to its high toxicity and potency, botulinum toxin has great potential for use as a biological weapon1. Great care need be taken when handling or using Botulinum toxin. A single gram of crystalline toxin, evenly dispersed, can kill over 1 million people1. Also due to its deadly toxicity, botulinum toxin can be used as a powerful poison if misused or ingested. As mentioned above, the toxin can cause a deadly form of food poisoning because it is found in soil and thennwhen transmitted in food sources. . Marine animals have even been shown to ingest C. botulinum from shellfish, resulting in contamination of the intestinal tract5 that is then spread to humans through onshore butchering and poor food preparation precautions.
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