α-Cobratoxin (Cbtx), the neurotoxin isolated from the venom of the Thai cobra Naja kaouthia, causes paralysis by preventing acetylcholine (ACh) binding to nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). In the current study, the region of the Cbtx molecule that is directly involved in binding to nAChRs is used as the target for anticobratoxin drug design. The crystal structure (1YI5) of Cbtx in complex with the acetylcholine binding protein (AChBP), a soluble homolog of the extracellular binding domain of nAChRs, was selected to prepare an α-cobratoxin active binding site for docking. The amino acid residues (Ser182-Tyr192) of the AChBP structure, the binding site of Cbtx, were used as the positive control to validate the prepared Cbtx active binding site (root mean square deviation < 1.2 Å). Virtual screening of the National Cancer Institute diversity set, a library of 1990 compounds with nonredundant pharmacophore profiles, using AutoDock against the Cbtx active site, revealed 39 potential inhibitor candidates. The adapted in vitro radioligand competition assays using [3H]epibatidine and [125I]bungarotoxin against the AChBPs from the marine species, Aplysia californica (Ac), and from the freshwater snails, Lymnaea stagnalis (Ls) and Bolinus truncates (Bt), revealed 4 compounds from the list of inhibitor candidates that had micromolar to nanomolar interferences for the toxin binding to AChBPs. Three hits (NSC42258, NSC121865, and NSC134754) can prolong the survival time of the mice if administered 30 min before injection with Cbtx, but only NSC121865 and NSC134754 can prolong the survival time if injected immediately after injection with Cbtx. These inhibitors serve as novel templates/scaffolds for the development of more potent and specific anticobratoxin.
Keywords: α-cobratoxin, virtual screening, docking, neurotoxin, nicotinic acetylcholine receptor