Scientists say Botox, used to iron out skin wrinkles, has now been modified so that it could one day be used to treat asthma and possibly even cancer.
Botulinum neurotoxin (BoNT), sold as Botox, works by slicing up proteins known as SNAREs, which allow cells to release various substances, reports New Scientist.
In its natural form, BoNT cleaves only those SNAREs that are specific to neurons. This prevents the release of neurotransmitters, cutting off neural communication between muscles and the brain.
Different SNAREs allow other cells to release substances such as mucus or immune chemicals called cytokines.
So, Joseph Barbieri and his colleagues at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee have modified BoNT so that it slices the SNAREs found in epithelial cells.
The researchers re-engineered the cutting section of BoNT molecules, installing an amino acid that has an affinity for epithelial SNAREs.
When they added the modified toxin to human cells grown in culture, it inhibited the release of cytokines and mucin, which is involved in mucus formation.
According to researchers, the modified toxin could treat asthma, in which lung cells secrete too much mucus, and cancers in which cells overproduce cytokines.
The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.