Slowly Making Sense: A Review of the Two-Step Venom System within Slow (Nycticebus spp.) and Pygmy Lorises (Xanthonycticebus spp.)Leah Lucy Joscelyne Fitzpatrick, Rodrigo Ligabue-Braun, K. Anne-Isola Nekaris
- Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis
Since the early 2000s, studies of the evolution of venom within animals have rapidly expanded, offering new revelations on the origins and development of venom within various species. The venomous mammals represent excellent opportunities to study venom evolution due to the varying functional usages, the unusual distribution of venom across unrelated mammals and the diverse variety of delivery systems. A group of mammals that excellently represents a combination of these traits are the slow (Nycticebus spp.) and pygmy lorises (Xanthonycticebus spp.) of south-east Asia, which possess the only confirmed two-step venom system. These taxa also present one of the most intriguing mixes of toxic symptoms (cytotoxicity and immunotoxicity) and functional usages (intraspecific competition and ectoparasitic defence) seen in extant animals. We still lack many pieces of the puzzle in understanding how this venom system works, why it evolved what is involved in the venom system and what triggers the toxic components to work. Here, we review available data building upon a decade of research on this topic, focusing especially on why and how this venom system may have evolved. We discuss that research now suggests that venom in slow lorises has a sophisticated set of multiple uses in both intraspecific competition and the potential to disrupt the immune system of targets; we suggest that an exudate diet reveals several toxic plants consumed by slow and pygmy lorises that could be sequestered into their venom and which may help heal venomous bite wounds; we provide the most up-to-date visual model of the brachial gland exudate secretion protein (BGEsp); and we discuss research on a complement component 1r (C1R) protein in saliva that may solve the mystery of what activates the toxicity of slow and pygmy loris venom. We conclude that the slow and pygmy lorises possess amongst the most complex venom system in extant animals, and while we have still a lot more to understand about their venom system, we are close to a breakthrough, particularly with current technological advances.