In normal serums of the majority of mammalian and avian blood there exists certain substances capable of activating venom hæmolysin. They are extractable from serum by means of ether, and are capable of conferring upon the originally non-activating serum a power to activate venom, when mixed with the latter. The ethereal extract consists of fatty acids, neutral fats and possibly also some ether soluble organic soaps. The fatty acids and soaps, especially of the oleinic series, acquire certain characteristics of complements in general, when they are mixed with serum. They are inactive without the venom in the mixture; they are inactivable with calcium chloride; they exhibit a tendency to go off in activity with age; they are inactive or only weakly active at 0° C., and they are extractable by ether. In testing the serum from which the ether soluble substances are removed, it is found that no venom activating property is left. Warm alcoholic extraction of such serum yields, however, a large quantity of lecithin. In the case of non-activating serums no venom activating fats appear in the ethereal extract. Lecithin exists in such serum in no less quantity than in the activating kind.
The addition of oleinic acid or its soluble soaps to a non-activating serum, in a ratio which corresponds to the percentage of fatty acids or soaps contained in some of the easily activating serums, will make the serum highly active in regard to venom.
In normal serum of dog there exists, besides the group of activators already mentioned, another kind of venom activators which has been identified as a lecithin compound acting in the manner of free lecithin.
A very sharp differentiation of the hæmolysis produced by this activator and by the other groups of activators is obtained by means of calcium chloride, which is powerless against lecithin or lecithin compounds, but effective in removing the action of the latter. This lecithin containing proteid can be precipitated by half saturation with ammonium sulphate, but is perfectly soluble in water, and is not coagulated in neutral alkaline salt solutions upon boiling. Alcohol precipitates a proteid-like coagulum and extracts lecithin from it; ether does not extract lecithin from this compound.
Non-activating serums do not contain any such lecithin compound.
Lecithin contained in other serum proteids, mainly as lecithalbumin, and perhaps as contained in globulin, is not able to activate venom. This is true of all the serums with which I worked; it matters not whether these fractions (obtained with ammonium sulphate) belong to the most activating serum (dog) or to the non-activating serum (ox).
The non-coagulable portion of all heated serum contains a venom activator of the nature of lecithin. This activator is contained in a non-coagulable proteid described by Howell which is identical with Chabrie's albumon. As there is no ether-extractable lecithin in this portion of the serum, the activating property of heated serum must be due to this proteid compound of lecithin. That this lecithin proteid does not pre-exist in normal serum but is produced by the action of high temperature is true of all serums except that of the dog. In venom activation we know now that lecithin becomes reactive with venom when it is transformed from other proteid compounds into the non-coagulable form, the albumon. Howell's view of the non-existence of the non-coagulable proteid in normal serum seems to receive a biological support from venom hæmolysis.
Ovovitellin derived from hen's egg is one of the best venom activators of the lecithin proteid type.
The cause of venom susceptibility of various kinds of blood corpuscles does not depend upon the existence of lecithin in the corpuscles, but solely upon the amount of fatty acids, and perhaps, also, soaps and fats, contained in the corpuscles. The protection which calcium chloride gives against venom haemolysis is proof of the absence of lecithin activation. From the stroma of susceptible corpuscles fatty acids or some fats can be extracted with ether. After ethereal extraction the stroma becomes non-activating, while the extract contains fatty acids and some soaps or fats, which when added to venom-resistant corpuscles render the latter vulnerable to venom. The corpuscular solution of non-activating corpuscles does not contain enough fatty acids. The larger the amount of fatty acids and soaps in the corpuscles, the easier the cells undergo venom haemolysis. Lecithin exists in the strorna of all kinds of corpuscles, but in a form unavailable for venom activation.
The somatic cytolytic processes caused by venom requires intracellular complements. The experiments performed on the cells of liver, kidney, testis and brain of the guinea-pig and rat indicate that the substances which act as complements are inactivable by calcium chloride.