Something to think about next time those vanity pangs hit (Mac-users, I’m looking at you): new research published in the April 2nd Journal of Neuroscience reports that botulium (the toxin in the popular cosmetic Botox injections) can reach the nervous system when injected into the facial muscles of rats. Although the toxin would only reach the nerve in minute amounts, botulinum toxin is potent even in small amounts and may still disrupt nerve activity. Currently the FDA is reviewing the safety of Botox injections, which are used to paralyze the muscles of the face and thereby reduce the appearance of wrinkles, due to 16 deaths that have resulted from injections.
Botulinum toxin is produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum and, by and large, has been safely used by medical professionals to treat a variety of maladies from muscle spasms to migraines to wrinkles. This ‘safety’ has been attributed to the toxin’s localization–specifically, it doesn’t leave the injection site or spread to other systems and tissues, where it could be harmful or fatal. This study, conducted by Atonucci et al, suggests that botulinum toxin can be transported backwards along microtubles (the ‘skeleton’ of cells, which can also move molecules) and leave muscle cells. It can pass through the muscle cell’s membrane, and find itself in the afferent nerve terminal adjacent to the injection site. Whether it is enough to interfere with nerve functioning remains unclear, but perhaps will be further studied in the wake of the FDA review.