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Is Botox Running Amok in Millions of People’s Bodies?

DiscoblogBy Lizzie BuchenApril 3, 2008 8:38 PM


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It's not a good day for anyone striving to fit society's unrealistic expectations of beauty. First, the British Periodical Publishers Association announced that it may curb the grotesque amount of airbrushing and photoshopping (video) necessary to sell their magazines. And now, researchers have found that botulinum neurotoxin type A—known as Botox—doesn't always stay put after you squirt it into someone's face.


Botox—the most poisonous protein on Earth—works by cutting off communication between neurons and muscles, paralyzing those muscles. Though an infection with the neurotoxin can lead to a potentially fatal paralytic disease (botulism), it was assumed to be safe for use because it doesn't spread around. Looks like that's not exactly the case. New research in The Journal of Neuroscience, shows that after Botox is injected, it can actually migrate along the nerves originating from the injection site, as well as neighboring nerves, ending up in places where it wasn't intended to be. Matteo Caleo, an Italian neuroscientist, injected rats' faces with Botox, and found that the toxin traveled all the way from their whiskers to their brainstems. This little wrinkle (so to speak) may actually be a boon to neurologists, who may be able to use Botox's newfound legs to treat less peripheral neural disorders (e.g. epilepsy), but what does it mean for those seeking the syringe of youth? If you try to smooth your crow marks, could you transform into a Two-Face? Or if it spreads to the brain, could it lead to respiratory failure and death? Caleo notes that "Botox has been used for more than 25 years with very few complications, unless you overdose. ... I don't think fear is warranted." But his results arrive two months after a petition to the FDA requested regulatory action concerning the possible spread of Botox from the site of injection to other parts of the body, and a month after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began investigating Botox-related deaths. It's a good bet that Botox will continue to be popular no matter the potential consequences—some people will stop at nothing to try to look attractive.

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