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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

Identification of oxalic acid and tartaric acid as major persistent pain-inducing toxins in the stinging hairs of the nettle, Urtica thunbergiana.

BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Once human skin contacts stinging hairs of Urtica spp. (stinging nettles), the irritant is released and produces pain, wheals or a stinging sensation which may last for >12 h. However, the existence of pain-inducing toxins in the stinging hairs of Urtica thunbergiana has never been systematically demonstrated. Experiments were therefore conducted to identify the persistent pain-inducing agents in the stinging hairs of U. thunbergiana. METHODS: The stinging hairs of U. thunbergiana were removed and immersed in deionized water. After centrifugation, the clear supernatants were then subjected to high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), enzymatic analysis and/or behavioural bioassays. KEY RESULTS: The HPLC results showed that the major constituents in the stinging hairs of U. thunbergiana were histamine, oxalic acid and tartaric acid. However, the well-recognized pain-inducing agents, serotonin and formic acid, existed at a low concentration as estimated by HPLC and/or enzymatic analyses. The behavioural tests showed that 2% oxalic acid and 10% tartaric acid dramatically elicited persistent pain sensations in rats. In contrast, 10% formic acid and 2% serotonin only elicited moderate pain sensation in the first 10 min. Moreover, no significant pain-related behavioural response was observed after injecting 10% acetylcholine and histamine in rats. CONCLUSIONS: Oxalic acid and tartaric acid were identified, for the first time, as major long-lasting pain-inducing toxins in the stinging hairs of U. thunbergiana. The general view that formic acid, histamine and serotonin are the pain-inducing agents in the stinging hairs of U. dioica may require updating, since their concentrations in U. thunbergiana were too low to induce significant pain sensation in behavioural bioassays.[1]


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