Envenoming by Echis saw-scaled viper is the leading cause of death and morbidity in Africa due to snake bite. Despite its medical importance, there have been few investigations into the toxin composition of the venom of this viper. Here, we report the cloning of cDNA sequences encoding four groups or isoforms of the haemostasis-disruptive Serine protease proteins (SPs) from the venom glands of Echis ocellatus. All these SP sequences encoded the cysteine residues scaffold that form the 6-disulphide bonds responsible for the characteristic tertiary structure of venom serine proteases. All the Echis ocellatus EoSP groups showed varying degrees of sequence similarity to published viper venom SPs. However, these groups also showed marked intercluster sequence conservation across them which were significantly different from that of previously published viper SPs. Because viper venom SPs exhibit a high degree of sequence similarity and yet exert profoundly different effects on the mammalian haemostatic system, no attempt was made to assign functionality to the new Echis ocellatus EoSPs on the basis of sequence alone. The extraordinary level of interspecific and intergeneric sequence conservation exhibited by the Echis ocellatus EoSPs and analogous serine proteases from other viper species leads us to speculate that antibodies to representative molecules should neutralise (that we will exploit, by epidermal DNA immunization) the biological function of this important group of venom toxins in vipers that are distributed throughout Africa, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent.
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