New insight on scorpion divergence inferred from comparative analysis of toxin structure, pharmacology and distribution

Oren Froy*, Michael Gurevitz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


The divergence of Buthidae, the most abundant family of scorpions, has relied thus far on anatomical and morphological features, but still remains controversial. However, much information has accumulated on Buthidae long-chain scorpion toxins affecting neuronal sodium channel conductance (α- and β-toxins) and their pharmacology. Therefore, we constructed a toxin evolutionary tree, which together with recent data on toxin gene organization, toxin structures, and worldwide dispersion, sheds light on toxin and hence, scorpion divergence. Based on these data, we suggest that in the ancient world, the ancestral long-chain toxins affecting sodium channels developed into β-like toxins, which most likely developed into α- and β-toxins before the separation of South America from Africa. Subsequently, in the Old World, mostly excitatory and depressant toxins developed from the ancestral β-like toxin and in the New World a new type of toxin group with β-toxin structure but α-toxin activity developed from the β-toxins. Assisted by the worldwide distribution of toxins and the zoogeographical dispersion of the studied genera in Asia and Africa (Old World) and in South and North America (New World), we suggest a route of divergence for some of the Buthidae scorpions, a task that has reached a standstill when morphological and anatomical features were used.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)549-555
Number of pages7
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2003

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We acknowledge support from BARD, The United States-Israel Binational Agricultural Research and Development (IS-2901-97C); The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities (466/97); and Biotechnology Infrastructure Program of the Israeli Ministry of Science. We would like to thank D. Gordon for her critical reviewing of the manuscript.


  • Missing links
  • Neurotoxins
  • Scorpion divergence
  • Structure


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