Component of fire ant venom shows promise as a psoriasis treatment

In a new study involving laboratory mice, researchers have found that solenopsin and similar compounds could be beneficial for psoriasis. The study entitled “Evidence for biochemical barrier restoration: Topical solenopsin analogs improve inflammation and acanthosis in the KC-Tie2 mouse model of psoriasis” was published yesterday 11th of September 2017 in the journal Scientific Reports.

Solenepsin in this study

Solenepsin is the alkaloidal component and the main toxic component of fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) venom. For this study the team of researchers used solenopsin analogs or similar to act as ceramides over the skin but not be broken down to sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P) to cause the skin damage. They tested this theory on a special strain of laboratory mice called the KC-Tie2 mouse. Solenepsin preparations were applied over the skin of these psoriatic mice for 28 days. It was seen that the severity of the inflammation reduced with the application. This restored the barrier function of the skin and also reduced inflammation.

Red fire ant worker. Image Credit: Wnarong Shutterstock
Red fire ant worker. Image Credit: Wnarong Shutterstock

The researchers synthesized two forms of solenepsin called S12 and S14. With their application one of the hallmark features of psoriasis – infiltration with T cells seemed to reduce by 47–63 percent. Treatment with S14 also reduced CD8+ T cells by 47 percent and CD11c+ dendritic cell infiltration by 18 percent.

Results showed that those mice treated with solenepsin showed reduction in two main features of psoriasis including acanthosis and hyperkeratosis. Skin thickness in the psoriatic mice reduced by around 30 percent. The treatment also reduced the expression of genes that usually get over activated with the use of steroids and UV lights.


Psoriasis is a chronic and often irksome inflammatory skin disease that plagues millions of people worldwide. Around 2.5–6 million people in the United States alone are affected. It leads to several deeper complications and problems along with its potential to form itchy and scaly lesions all over the skin.

The cause of psoriasis remains unknown. There is some genetic basis to this disease. Some earlier studies have shown that ceramides are lipids or fats that the body produces. These help make up a fatty layer over the skin that protects from outside chemicals and injuries. This is the barrier function of the skin. In psoriasis, there is activation of the keratinocytes, endothelial cells, T cells, macrophages and dendritic cells. These are all immune cells of the body. This disrupts the ceramide layer leaving the skin vulnerable to outside insults and this causes the skin lesions typical of psoriasis. Ceramides agains are not all good. They can be broken down to form sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P). This SIP can lead to inflammation and formation of cancers.

Treatment of psoriasis mainly involves reducing the inflammatory overactivity using medications such as methotrexate, vitamin A derivatives and cyclosporine. Other therapies include biologics that specifically target the inflammatory cells. These are expensive and not suitable for all cases. Steroid ointments and their logn term use may reduce their effectiveness. With time these steroids may cause skin changes. Some of the thicker psoriatic lesions are not responsive to steroids. Thus psoriatic patients have few options for treatment and even fewer that ensure long term well being or cure.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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