Botulinum neurotoxins (BoNTs) are potent neuroparalytic toxins that cause mortality through respiratory paralysis. The approved medical countermeasure for BoNT poisoning is infusion of antitoxin immunoglobulins. However, antitoxins have poor therapeutic efficacy in symptomatic patients; thus, there is an urgent need for treatments that reduce the need for artificial ventilation. We report that the US Food and Drug Administration–approved potassium channel blocker 3,4-diaminopyridine (3,4-DAP) reverses respiratory depression and neuromuscular weakness in murine models of acute and chronic botulism. In ex vivo studies, 3,4-DAP restored end-plate potentials and twitch contractions of diaphragms isolated from mice at terminal stages of BoNT serotype A (BoNT/A) botulism. In vivo, human-equivalent doses of 3,4-DAP reversed signs of severe respiratory depression and restored mobility in BoNT/A-intoxicated mice at terminal stages of respiratory collapse. Multiple-dosing administration of 3,4-DAP improved respiration and extended survival at up to 5 LD50 BoNT/A. Finally, 3,4-DAP reduced gastrocnemius muscle paralysis and reversed respiratory depression in sublethal models of serotype A–, B–, and E–induced botulism. These findings make a compelling argument for repurposing 3,4-DAP to symptomatically treat symptoms of muscle paralysis caused by botulism, independent of serotype. Furthermore, they suggest that 3,4-DAP is effective for a range of botulism symptoms at clinically relevant time points.


Edwin Vazquez-Cintron, James Machamer, Celinia Ondeck, Kathleen Pagarigan, Brittany Winner, Paige Bodner, Kyle Kelly, M. Ross Pennington, Patrick McNutt


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