We analyzed the origin and evolution of snake venom toxin families represented in both viperid and elapid snakes by means of phylogenetic analysis of the amino acid sequences of the toxins and related nonvenom proteins. Out of eight toxin families analyzed, five provided clear evidence of recruitment into the snake venom proteome before the diversification of the advanced snakes (Kunitz-type protease inhibitors, CRISP toxins, galactose-binding lectins, M12B peptidases, nerve growth factor toxins), and one was equivocal (cystatin toxins). In two others (phospholipase A(2) and natriuretic toxins), the nonmonophyly of venom toxins demonstrates that presence of these proteins in elapids and viperids results from independent recruitment events. The ANP/BNP natriuretic toxins are likely to be basal, whereas the CNP/BPP toxins are Viperidae only. Similarly, the lectins were recruited twice. In contrast to the basal recruitment of the galactose-binding lectins, the C-type lectins were shown to be Viperidae only, with the alpha-chains and beta-chains resulting from an early duplication event. These results provide strong additional evidence that venom evolved once, at the base of the advanced snake radiation, rather than multiple times in different lineages, with these toxins also present in the venoms of the "colubrid" snake families. Moreover, they provide a first insight into the composition of the earliest ophidian venoms and point the way toward a research program that could elucidate the functional context of the evolution of the snake venom proteome.
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