Melittin is the main component (40–60% of the dry weight) and the major pain producing substance of honeybee (Apis mellifera) venom . Melittin is a basic peptide consisting of 26 amino acids.[2]

OPM superfamily151
OPM protein2mlt
3D model (JSmol)
ECHA InfoCard 100.157.496
MeSH Melitten
Molar mass 2846.46266
Except where otherwise noted, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C [77 °F], 100 kPa).
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Infobox references


The principal function of melittin as a component of bee venom is to cause pain and destruction of tissue of intruders that threaten a beehive. However, in honey bees, melittin is not only expressed in the venom gland, but also in other tissues when infected with pathogens. The two venom molecules, melittin and secapin, that are over-expressed in honey bees infected with various pathogens, possibly indicating a role for melittin in the immune response of bees to infectious diseases.[3]


Melittin is a small peptide with no disulfide bridge; the N-terminal part of the molecule is predominantly hydrophobic and the C-terminal part is hydrophilic and strongly basic. In water, it forms a tetramer but it also can spontaneously integrate itself into cell membranes.[4]

Mechanism of action

Injection of melittin into animals and humans causes pain sensation. It has strong surface effects on cell membranes causing pore-formation in epithelial cells and the destruction of red blood cells. Melittin also activates nociceptor (pain receptor) cells through a variety of mechanisms.[2]

Melittin can open thermal nociceptor TRPV1 channels via cyclooxygenase metabolites resulting in depolarization of nociceptor cells. The pore forming effects in cells causes the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines. It also activates G-protein-coupled receptor-mediated opening of transient receptor potential channels. Finally melittin up-regulates the expression of Nav1.8 and Nav1.9 sodium channels in nociceptor cell causing long term action potential firing and pain sensation.[2]

Melittin inhibits protein kinase C, Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II, myosin light chain kinase, and Na+/K+-ATPase (synaptosomal membrane). Mellitin blocks transport pumps such as the Na+-K+-ATPase and the H+-K+-ATPase. In vitro, melittin increases the permeability of cell membranes to ions,[5] particularly Na+ and indirectly Ca2+, because of the Na+-Ca2+-exchange. This effect results in morphological and functional changes, particularly in excitable tissues.[5]


Bee venom therapy has been used in traditional medicine for treating various disorders,[6] although its non-specific toxicity has limited scientific research on its potential effects.[7]


  1. Melitten - Compound Summary, PubChem.
  2. Chen J, Guan SM, Sun W, Fu H (2016). "Melittin, the Major Pain-Producing Substance of Bee Venom". Neuroscience Bulletin. 32 (3): 265–272. doi:10.1007/s12264-016-0024-y. PMC 5563768. PMID 26983715.
  3. Doublet V, Poeschl Y, Gogol-Döring A, Alaux C, Annoscia D, Aurori C, et al. (March 2017). "Unity in defence: honeybee workers exhibit conserved molecular responses to diverse pathogens". BMC Genomics. 18 (1): 207. doi:10.1186/s12864-017-3597-6. PMC 5333379. PMID 28249569.
  4. Terwilliger TC, Eisenberg D (1982). "The structure of melittin. II. Interpretation of the structure" (PDF). The Journal of Biological Chemistry. 257 (11): 6016–6022. PMID 7076662.
  5. Ma R, Mahadevappa R, Kwok HF (November 2017). "Venom-based peptide therapy: insights into anti-cancer mechanism". Oncotarget. 8 (59): 100908–100930. doi:10.18632/oncotarget.21740. PMC 5725072. PMID 29246030.
  6. Rady I, Siddiqui IA, Rady M, Mukhtar H (2017). "Melittin, a major peptide component of bee venom, and its conjugates in cancer therapy". Cancer Letters. 402: 16–31. doi:10.1016/j.canlet.2017.05.010. PMC 5682937. PMID 28536009.
  7. Liu CC, Hao DJ, Zhang Q, An J, Zhao JJ, Chen B, Zhang LL, Yang H (2016). "Application of be venom and its main constituent melittin for cancer treatment". Cancer Chemotherapy and Pharmacology. 78 (6): 1113–1130. doi:10.1007/s00280-016-3160-1. PMID 27677623.
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