Toxins are increasingly being used as valuable tools for analysis of cellular physiology, and some are used medicinally for treatment of human diseases. In particular, botulinum toxin, the most poisonous biological substance known, is used for treatment of a myriad of human neuromuscular disorders characterized by involuntary muscle contractions. Since approval of type-A botulinum toxin by the US Food and Drug Administration in December 1989 for three disorders (strabismus, blepharospasm, and hemifacial spasm), the number of indications being treated has increased greatly to include numerous focal dystonias, spasticity, tremors, cosmetic applications, migraine and tension headaches, and other maladies. Many of these diseases were previously refractory to pharmacological and surgical treatments. The remarkable therapeutic utility of botulinum toxin lies in its ability to specifically and potently inhibit involuntary muscle activity for an extended duration. The clostridia produce more protein toxins than any other bacterial genus and are a rich reservoir of toxins for research and medicinal uses. Research is underway to use clostridial toxins or toxin domains for drug delivery, prevention of food poisoning, and the treatment of cancer and other diseases. The remarkable success of botulinum toxin as a therapeutic agent has created a new field of investigation in microbiology.
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