Tetrodotoxin and death in the Japanese and Haitian culture


This thesis concerns the natural toxin Tetrodotoxin (TTX). Initially, scientists believed that only the Puffer fish from the Tetraodontidae family produced TTX. However, its distribution among distant species, marine and terrestrial, indicates that the toxin'is probably produced by a bacteria and transmitted in those animals through the food chain. However, it remains specific to certain related species within certain areas. TTX may serve as a hormonal territory marker, and as a defense/hunting weapon. TTX is also a deadly neural toxin. A fundamental relationship exists between structure and activity of the TTX molecule. Its main groups enable it to fit in the Na· gate channel, block it and effectively inhibit the initiation and transmission of neural impulses, causing a progressive destruction of neural communication. There is an interesting difference between Japanese and Haitian victims due to trauma and ingestion of other powerful poisonous agents to which the Haitian victims are submitted. Because of the progressive nature and target (preganglionic somatic motor and sensory sympathetic nerves) of TTX intoxication, it is likely that victims retain a perception of their surroundings. Another aspect of TTX is its dissimilar use in Japan and Haiti. In Japan, TTX is used as a drug and as a tool to confront death. In Haiti, TTX is tied to Voodoo, supposedly used to make zombies. The historical, social and religious background of these two societies justifies these differences. TTX connects these two societies through its relationship with death and the power it seems to give them over it. The Japanese and Haitian attitude towards death relates to their view of life as a circular pattern, with death as one of its various stage, contrary to the western European modern societies which view life in a linear fashion with death as the end.


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Thesis Completion





Brophy-Ellison, James


Bachelor of Science (B.S.)


College of Arts and Sciences

Degree Program



Arts and Sciences -- Dissertations, Academic;Dissertations, Academic -- Arts and Sciences







Access Status

Open Access

Length of Campus-only Access


Document Type

Honors in the Major Thesis

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