If consumed, death caps can prove deadly. The relatively inconspicuous mushroom is responsible for the majority of mushroom-related deaths worldwide, according to a 2016 study. But there could be good news on the horizon—researchers have discovered a treatment that may work as an antidote to poisoning from the mushroom.
The findings were published on May 16 in Nature Communications. The team of researchers from China and Australia first figured out which genes the toxin from death caps trigger in humans, leading to organ failure and death. Using new gene-editing technology, they found that the mushroom’s toxins trigger a gene to produce a protein dubbed STT3B—and that this protein is central to the serious reactions the poisonous mushrooms cause. This was previously unknown to the scientific community.
The researchers then looked for possible treatments that could inhibit STT3b. They identified a medical dye known as indocyanine green that could stop the protein. The dye is already safely used in other medical treatments. The researchers tested the treatment in cells, livers, and male lab mice. It proved and increased survival rates in the mice when administered between one and four hours after poisoning. It was not effective if administered after eight hours, likely because serious organ damage had already occurred.
If similar results can be replicated in humans, the scientists say the dye could be used as a “specific antidote” to death cap poisoning. This could have wide-reaching implications. Death caps are native to Europe but have now spread to every continent except Antarctica. In the U.S., scientists say the mushrooms are continuing to proliferate because of a unique reproductive adaptation.
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