A study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine suggests that a toxin from the venom of the Brazilian wandering spider may help treat erectile dysfunction in humans.

The study, authored by a team of Brazilian and American scientists, found that the toxin PnTx2-6 improved erectile function in aged rats by boosting the availability of nitric oxide, a chemical that dilates blood vessels and increases blood flow.

"Age-associated erectile dysfunction involves a decrease in nitric oxide availability and impaired relaxation," the authors wrote. "Decrease in erectile function associated with age was partially restored 15 to 20 minutes after injection with PnTx2-6."

Treatment derived from the toxin may help patients who fail to respond to erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra, which use different pathways, study co-author Dr. Kenia Nunes told MSNBC.

These recent findings follow a 2010 study of PnTx2-6 administered to rats also co-authored by Nunes.

Priapism -- a persistent, usually painful erection -- is a symptom of the Brazilian wandering spider's venom, but the exotic arachnid's bite can also be lethal, due to the presence of PhTx3, a potent neurotoxin, that is known to naturally occur only in the spider's venom.

However, a website maintained by Rod Crawford, curator of arachnids at the University of Washington’s Burke Museum, maintains that deaths from Brazilian wandering spider bites are rare, with only 10 fatalities in more than 7,000 reported cases.

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