Venomous saliva of gila monsters controls blood sugar levels via a regulating hormone.

The Gila monster (Heloderma suspectum) is a venomous lizard found in the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico. Researchers have identified a hormone, called exendin-4, in the Gila monster's saliva. The Gila monster, an opportunistic carnivore that eats large meals when they are available and fasts for long periods in between, likely benefits from the hormone to maintain its blood sugar levels during long periods of food scarcity.


"The recent identification in Heloderma horridum venom of exendin-3, a new member of the glucagon superfamily that acts as a pancreatic secretagogue, prompted a search for a similar peptide in Heloderma suspectum venom…An amino acid sequencing assay…was used to isolate a 39-amino acid peptide, exendin-4, from H. suspectum venom. Exendin-4 differs from exendin-3 by two amino acid substitutions, Gly2-Glu3 in place of Ser2-Asp3, but is otherwise identical. The structural differences make exendin-4 distinct from exendin-3 in its bioactivity. In dispersed acini from guinea pig pancreas, natural and synthetic exendin-4 stimulate a monophasic increase in cAMP beginning at 100 pM that plateaus at 10 nM. The exendin-4-induced increase in cAMP is inhibited progressively by increasing concentrations of the exendin receptor antagonist, exendin-(9-39) amide. Unlike exendin-3, exendin-4 does not stimulate a second rise in acinar cAMP at concentrations >100 nM, does not stimulate amylase release, and does not inhibit the binding of radiolabeled vasoactive intestinal peptide to acini. This indicates that in dispersed pancreatic acini, exendin-4 interacts only with the recently described exendin receptor." (Eng et al. 1992:7402)

Journal article
Isolation and characterization of exendin-4, and exendin-3 analogue, from Heloderma suspectum venom: further evidence for an exendin receptor on dispersed acini from guinea pig pancreas.

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Living System/s

Gila MonsterHeloderma suspectumSpecies