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1.  Correlating Molecular Phylogeny with Venom Apparatus Occurrence in Panamic Auger Snails (Terebridae) 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(11):e7667.
Central to the discovery of neuroactive compounds produced by predatory marine snails of the superfamily Conoidea (cone snails, terebrids, and turrids) is identifying those species with a venom apparatus. Previous analyses of western Pacific terebrid specimens has shown that some Terebridae groups have secondarily lost their venom apparatus. In order to efficiently characterize terebrid toxins, it is essential to devise a key for identifying which species have a venom apparatus. The findings presented here integrate molecular phylogeny and the evolution of character traits to infer the presence or absence of the venom apparatus in the Terebridae. Using a combined dataset of 156 western and 33 eastern Pacific terebrid samples, a phylogenetic tree was constructed based on analyses of 16S, COI and 12S mitochondrial genes. The 33 eastern Pacific specimens analyzed represent four different species: Acus strigatus, Terebra argyosia, T. ornata, and T. cf. formosa. Anatomical analysis was congruent with molecular characters, confirming that species included in the clade Acus do not have a venom apparatus, while those in the clade Terebra do. Discovery of the association between terebrid molecular phylogeny and the occurrence of a venom apparatus provides a useful tool for effectively identifying the terebrid lineages that may be investigated for novel pharmacological active neurotoxins, enhancing conservation of this important resource, while providing supplementary information towards understanding terebrid evolutionary diversification.
PMCID: PMC2766622  PMID: 19890382
2.  Macroevolution of venom apparatus innovations in auger snails (Gastropoda; Conoidea; Terebridae) 
The Terebridae are a diverse family of tropical and subtropical marine gastropods that use a complex and modular venom apparatus to produce toxins that capture polychaete and enteropneust preys. The complexity of the terebrid venom apparatus suggests that venom apparatus development in the Terebridae could be linked to the diversification of the group and can be analyzed within a molecular phylogenetic scaffold to better understand terebrid evolution. Presented here is a molecular phylogeny of 89 terebrid species belonging to 12 of the 15 currently accepted genera, based on Bayesian inference and Maximum Likelihood analyses of amplicons of 3 mitochondrial (COI, 16S and 12S) and one nuclear (28S) genes. The evolution of the anatomy of the terebrid venom apparatus was assessed by mapping traits of six related characters: proboscis, venom gland, odontophore, accessory proboscis structure, radula, and salivary glands. A novel result concerning terebrid phylogeny was the discovery of a previously unrecognized lineage, which includes species of Euterebra and Duplicaria. The non- monophyly of most terebrid genera analyzed indicates that the current genus-level classification of the group is plagued with homoplasy and requires further taxonomic investigations. Foregut anatomy in the family Terebridae reveals an inordinate diversity of features that covers the range of variability within the entire superfamily Conoidea, and that hypodermic radulae have likely evolved independently on at least three occasions. These findings illustrate that terebrid venom apparatus evolution is not perfunctory, and involves independent and numerous changes of central features in the foregut anatomy. The multiple emergence of hypodermic marginal radular teeth in terebrids are presumably associated with variable functionalities, suggesting that terebrids have adapted to dietary changes that may have resulted from predator-prey relationships. The anatomical and phylogenetic results presented serve as a starting point to advance investigations about the role of predator-prey interactions in the diversification of the Terebridae and the impact on their peptide toxins, which are promising bioactive compounds for biomedical research and therapeutic drug development.
PMCID: PMC3389042  PMID: 22440724
character evolution; key innovations; predator-prey system; radula; teretoxins; toxins
3.  Evolution of the Toxoglossa Venom Apparatus as Inferred by Molecular Phylogeny of the Terebridae 
Toxoglossate marine gastropods, traditionally assigned to the families Conidae, Terebridae, and Turridae, are one of the most populous animal groups that use venom to capture their prey. These marine animals are generally characterized by a venom apparatus that consists of a muscular venom bulb and a tubular venom gland. The toxoglossan radula, often compared with a hypodermic needle for its use as a conduit to inject toxins into prey, is considered a major anatomical breakthrough that assisted in the successful initial radiation of these animals in the Cretaceous and early Tertiary. The pharmacological success of toxins from cone snails has made this group a star among biochemists and neuroscientists, but very little is known about toxins from the other Toxoglossa, and the phylogeny of these families is largely in doubt. Here we report the first molecular phylogeny for the Terebridae and use the results to infer the evolution of the venom apparatus for this group. Our findings indicate that most of the genera of terebrids are polyphyletic, and one species (“Terebra” (s.l.) jungi) is the sister group to all other terebrids. Molecular analyses combined with mapping of venom apparatus morphology indicate that the Terebridae have lost the venom apparatus at least twice during their evolution. Species in the genera Terebra and Hastula have the typical venom apparatus found in most toxoglossate gastropods, but all other terebrid species do not. For venomous organisms, the dual analysis of molecular phylogeny and toxin function is an instructive combination for unraveling the larger questions of phylogeny and speciation. The results presented here suggest a paradigm shift in the current understanding of terebrid evolution, while presenting a road map for discovering novel terebrid toxins, a largely unexplored resource for biomedical research and potential therapeutic drug development.
PMCID: PMC2639078  PMID: 18840603
Toxoglossa evolution; Terebridae phylogeny; venomous marine snails; peptide toxins; venom apparatus
4.  Peptide pal9a from the venom of the turrid snail Polystira albida from the Gulf of Mexico: purification, characterization, and comparison with P-conotoxin-like (framework IX) conoidean peptides 
Peptides  2008;30(3):467-476.
A novel peptide, pal9a, was purified from the venom duct extract of the turrid snail, Polystira albida (superfamily Conoidea, family Turridae), collected in the Gulf of Mexico. Its primary structure was determined by automated Edman degradation and confirmed by mass spectrometry. Turritoxin pal9a contains 34 amino acid residues, including 6 Cys residues arranged in the pattern C-C-C-C-C-C (framework IX, where “-“ represents one or more non-Cys amino acids), which characterizes the P-conotoxins. Peptide pal9a is the first P-conotoxin-like turritoxin characterized from a member of family Turridae of the Western Atlantic. The primary structure of turritoxin pal9a, NVCDGDACPDGVCRSGCTCDFNVAQRKDTCFYPQ-nh2 (-nh2, amidated C-terminus; calculated monoisotopic mass, 3679.48 Da; experimental monoisotopic mass, 3678.84 Da), shows variable degrees of low sequence similarity with framework IX-toxins from turrid (three species of Lophiotoma, and four species of Gemmula), terebrid (Hastula hectica), and Conus species of the Indo-Pacific (C. textile, C. gloriamaris, C. amadis, and C. litteratus) and of the Western Atlantic (C. regius). During the comparison of peptide pal9a with the other framework IX-toxins known to date, we realized that, in general, these peptides are hydrophilic, acidic compounds that have not been found in the fish-hunting Conus species studied thus far; we also found support for the notion that they may belong to several distinct gene superfamilies, even those from the same species. Given the broad distribution of framework IX-toxins within superfamily Conoidea, it will be interesting to identify the still-unknown molecular targets of P-conotoxins, P-conotoxin-like turritoxins, and P-conotoxin-like augertoxins.
PMCID: PMC2728929  PMID: 18948154
Conoidea; Turridae; Polystira albida; turritoxin; P-conotoxin; framework IX
5.  Accessing Novel Conoidean Venoms: Biodiverse Lumun-lumun Marine Communities, An Untapped Biological and Toxinological Resource 
Cone snail venoms have yielded pharmacologically-active natural products of exceptional scientific interest. However, cone snails are a small minority of venomous molluscan biodiversity, the vast majority being tiny venomous morphospecies in the family Turridae. A novel method called lumun-lumun opens access to these micromolluscs and their venoms. Old fishing nets are anchored to the sea bottom for a period of 1–6 months and marine biotas rich in small molluscs are established. In a single lumun-lumun community, we found a remarkable gastropod biodiversity (155 morphospecies). Venomous predators belonging to the superfamily Conoidea (36 morphospecies) were the largest group, the majority being micromolluscs in the family Turridae.
We carried out an initial analysis of the most abundant of the turrid morphospecies recovered, Clathurella (Lienardia) cincta (Dunker, 1871). In contrast to all cDNA clones characterized from cone snail venom ducts, one of the C. cincta clones identified encoded two different peptide precursors presumably translated from a single mRNA. The prospect of easily accessing so many different morphospecies of venomous marine snails raises intriguing toxinological possibilities: the 36 conoidean morphospecies in this one net alone have the potential to yield thousands of novel pharmacologically-active compounds.
PMCID: PMC2975739  PMID: 20005243
Marine Biodiversity; turrids; venom peptides
6.  Venomous Secretions from Marine Snails of the Terebridae Family Target Acetylcholine Receptors 
Toxins  2013;5(5):1043-1050.
Venoms from cone snails (Conidae) have been extensively studied during the last decades, but those from other members of the suborder Toxoglossa, such as of Terebridae and Turridae superfamilies attracted less interest so far. Here, we report the effects of venom and gland extracts from three species of the superfamily Terebridae. By 2-electrode voltage-clamp technique the gland extracts were tested on Xenopus oocytes expressing nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) of rat neuronal (α3β2, α3β4, α4β2, α4β4, α7) and muscle subtypes (α1β1γδ), and expressing potassium (Kv1.2 and Kv1.3) and sodium channels (Nav1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.6). The extracts were shown to exhibit remarkably high inhibitory activities on almost all nAChRs tested, in particular on the α7 subtype suggesting the presence of peptides of the A-superfamily from the venom of Conus species. In contrast, no effects on the potassium and sodium channels tested were observed. The venoms of terebrid snails may offer an additional source of novel biologically active peptides.
PMCID: PMC3709278  PMID: 23698359
Terebridae venom; gland extracts; acetylcholine receptors; potassium channels; sodium channels
7.  Pruning Nature: Biodiversity-Derived Discovery of Novel Sodium Channel Blocking Conotoxins from Conus bullatus 
Described herein is a general approach to identify novel compounds using the biodiversity of a megadiverse group of animals; specifically, the phylogenetic lineage of the venomous gastropods that belong to the genus Conus (“cone snails”). Cone snail biodiversity was exploited to identify three new μ-conotoxins, BuIIIA, BuIIIB and BuIIIC, encoded by the fish-hunting species Conus bullatus. BuIIIA, BuIIIB and BuIIIC are strikingly divergent in their amino acid composition compared to previous μ-conotoxins known to target the voltage-gated Na channel skeletal muscle subtype Nav1.4. Our preliminary results indicate that BuIIIB and BuIIIC are potent inhibitors of Nav1.4 (average block ~96%, at a 1 μM concentration of peptide), displaying a very slow off-rate not seen in previously characterized μ-conotoxins that block Nav1.4. In addition, the three new Conus bullatus μ-conopeptides help to define a new branch of the M-superfamily of conotoxins, namely M-5. The exogene strategy used to discover these Na channel-inhibiting peptides was based on both understanding the phylogeny of Conus, as well as the molecular genetics of venom μ-conotoxin peptides previously shown to generally target voltage-gated Na channels. The discovery of BuIIIA, BuIIIB and BuIIIC Na channel blockers expands the diversity of ligands useful in determining the structure-activity relationship of voltage-gated sodium channels.
PMCID: PMC2677393  PMID: 18950653
Biodiversity-derived compounds; Sodium channel ligands; exogenes
8.  A Good Compromise: Rapid and Robust Species Proxies for Inventorying Biodiversity Hotspots Using the Terebridae (Gastropoda: Conoidea) 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(7):e102160.
Devising a reproducible approach for species delimitation of hyperdiverse groups is an ongoing challenge in evolutionary biology. Speciation processes combine modes of passive and adaptive trait divergence requiring an integrative taxonomy approach to accurately generate robust species hypotheses. However, in light of the rapid decline of diversity on Earth, complete integrative approaches may not be practical in certain species-rich environments. As an alternative, we applied a two-step strategy combining ABGD (Automated Barcode Gap Discovery) and Klee diagrams, to balance speed and accuracy in producing primary species hypotheses (PSHs). Specifically, an ABGD/Klee approach was used for species delimitation in the Terebridae, a neurotoxin-producing marine snail family included in the Conoidea. Delimitation of species boundaries is problematic in the Conoidea, as traditional taxonomic approaches are hampered by the high levels of variation, convergence and morphological plasticity of shell characters. We used ABGD to analyze gaps in the distribution of pairwise distances of 454 COI sequences attributed to 87 morphospecies and obtained 98 to 125 Primary Species Hypotheses (PSHs). The PSH partitions were subsequently visualized as a Klee diagram color map, allowing easy detection of the incongruences that were further evaluated individually with two other species delimitation models, General Mixed Yule Coalescent (GMYC) and Poisson Tree Processes (PTP). GMYC and PTP results confirmed the presence of 17 putative cryptic terebrid species in our dataset. The consensus of GMYC, PTP, and ABGD/Klee findings suggest the combination of ABGD and Klee diagrams is an effective approach for rapidly proposing primary species proxies in hyperdiverse groups and a reliable first step for macroscopic biodiversity assessment.
PMCID: PMC4086986  PMID: 25003611
9.  A Rapidly Diverging Superfamily of Peptide Toxins in Venomous Gemmula Species 
The gem turrids (genus Gemmula Weinkauff, 1875) are venomous snails in the family Turridae. A gene superfamily of disulfide-rich peptides expressed in Gemmula venom ducts was characterized. Gemmula speciosa (Reeve, 1843), venom duct cDNA clones revealed two different conotoxin-like prepropeptide precursors, with identical signal sequences, a largely conserved pro region, and a cysteine-rich C-terminal mature peptide region. The conserved signal sequence was used to successfully amplify homologous genes from three other Gemmula species; all had the same pattern of Cys residues in the predicted mature venom peptide. Although the signal sequence and propeptide regions were highly conserved, the mature toxin regions diverged greatly in sequence, except that the Cys residues were conserved. We designate this as the Pg-gene superfamily (Pg-superfamily) of Gemmula venom peptides. Purification of two members of the family directly from G. speciosa venom was achieved; amino acid sequence analysis revealed that these peptides are highly posttranslationally modified. With at least 10-fold as many species of turrids as cone snails, identification of rapidly diversifying gene superfamilies such as the Pg-superfamily of Gemmula is essential before the facile and systematic discovery and characterization of peptide toxins from turrid venoms can be achieved.
PMCID: PMC2582027  PMID: 18272193
Conoidea; Venom peptides; Exogene superfamilies; Turrids; Drug discovery
10.  Discovery and Characterization of the Short κA-Conotoxins 
We have characterized the defining members of a novel subfamily of excitatory conotoxins, the short κA-conotoxins (κAS-conotoxins). κA-conotoxins PIVE and PIVF (κA-PIVE and κA-PIVF) were purified from Conus purpurascens venom. Both peptides elicited excitatory activity upon injection into fish. κA-PIVE was synthesized for further characterization. The excitatory effects of κA-PIVE in vivo were dose dependent, causing hyperactivity at low doses and rapid immobilization at high doses, symptomatic of a type of excitotoxic shock. Consistent with these observations, κA-PIVE caused repetitive action potentials in frog motor axons in vitro. Similar results have been reported for other structurally distinct conotoxin families; such peptides appear to be required by most fish-hunting cone snails for the rapid immobilization of prey. Unexpected structure-function relationships were revealed between these peptides and two families of homologous conotoxins: the αA-conotoxins (muscle nAChR antagonists) and κA-conotoxins (excitotoxins), which all share a common arrangement of cysteine residues (CC--C--C--C--C). Biochemically, the κAS-conotoxins more closely resemble the αAS-conotoxins than the other κA-conotoxin subfamily, the long κA-conotoxins (κAL-conotoxins); however, κAS- and αAS-conotoxins produce different physiological effects. In contrast, the κAS-and κAL-conotoxins that diverge in several biochemical characteristics are clearly more similar in their physiological effects.
PMCID: PMC1914217  PMID: 17118419
Conus venom; Conus peptide; conotoxin; toxin; antagonist; excitatory
11.  Conotoxins that Confer Therapeutic Possibilities  
Marine Drugs  2012;10(6):1244-1265.
Cone snails produce a distinctive repertoire of venom peptides that are used both as a defense mechanism and also to facilitate the immobilization and digestion of prey. These peptides target a wide variety of voltage- and ligand-gated ion channels, which make them an invaluable resource for studying the properties of these ion channels in normal and diseased states, as well as being a collection of compounds of potential pharmacological use in their own right. Examples include the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved pharmaceutical drug, Ziconotide (Prialt®; Elan Pharmaceuticals, Inc.) that is the synthetic equivalent of the naturally occurring ω-conotoxin MVIIA, whilst several other conotoxins are currently being used as standard research tools and screened as potential therapeutic drugs in pre-clinical or clinical trials. These developments highlight the importance of driving conotoxin-related research. A PubMed query from 1 January 2007 to 31 August 2011 combined with hand-curation of the retrieved articles allowed for the collation of 98 recently identified conotoxins with therapeutic potential which are selectively discussed in this review. Protein sequence similarity analysis tentatively assigned uncharacterized conotoxins to predicted functional classes. Furthermore, conotoxin therapeutic potential for neurodegenerative disorders (NDD) was also inferred.
PMCID: PMC3397437  PMID: 22822370
Conus; cone snail; peptide; neuropeptide; conotoxin; nicotinic acetylcholine receptor; sodium channel; calcium channel; potassium channel
12.  The Mitochondrial Genome of Conus textile, coxI-coxII Intergenic Sequences and Conoidean Evolution 
The cone snails belong to the superfamily Conoidea, comprising ∼10,000 venomous marine gastropods. We determined the complete mitochondrial DNA sequence of Conus textile. The gene order is identical in Conus textile, Lophiotoma cerithiformis (another Conoidean gastropod), and the neogastropod Ilyanassa obsoleta, (not in the superfamily Conoidea). However, the intergenic interval between the coxI/coxII genes, was much longer in C. textile (165 bp) than in any other previously analyzed gastropod.
We used the intergenic region to evaluate evolutionary patterns. In most neogastropods and three conidean families the intergenic interval is small (<30 nucleotides). Within Conus, the variation is from 130-170 bp, and each different clade within Conus has a narrower size distribution. In Conasprella, a subgenus traditionally assigned to Conus, the intergenic regions vary between 200-500 bp, suggesting that the species in Conasprella are not congeneric with Conus. The intergenic region was used for phylogenetic analysis of a group of fish-hunting Conus, despite the short length resolution was better than using standard markers. Thus, the coxI/coxII intergenic region can be used both to define evolutionary relationships between species in a clade, and to understand broad evolutionary patterns across the large superfamily Conoidea.
PMCID: PMC2718723  PMID: 17936021
Conus textile; coxI-coxII intergenic sequence; evolution; Superfamily Conoidea; Conasprella
13.  Diversity of Conotoxin Gene Superfamilies in the Venomous Snail, Conus victoriae 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e87648.
Animal venoms represent a vast library of bioactive peptides and proteins with proven potential, not only as research tools but also as drug leads and therapeutics. This is illustrated clearly by marine cone snails (genus Conus), whose venoms consist of mixtures of hundreds of peptides (conotoxins) with a diverse array of molecular targets, including voltage- and ligand-gated ion channels, G-protein coupled receptors and neurotransmitter transporters. Several conotoxins have found applications as research tools, with some being used or developed as therapeutics. The primary objective of this study was the large-scale discovery of conotoxin sequences from the venom gland of an Australian cone snail species, Conus victoriae. Using cDNA library normalization, high-throughput 454 sequencing, de novo transcriptome assembly and annotation with BLASTX and profile hidden Markov models, we discovered over 100 unique conotoxin sequences from 20 gene superfamilies, the highest diversity of conotoxins so far reported in a single study. Many of the sequences identified are new members of known conotoxin superfamilies, some help to redefine these superfamilies and others represent altogether new classes of conotoxins. In addition, we have demonstrated an efficient combination of methods to mine an animal venom gland and generate a library of sequences encoding bioactive peptides.
PMCID: PMC3914837  PMID: 24505301
14.  Blockade of Neuronal α7-nAChR by α-Conotoxin ImI Explained by Computational Scanning and Energy Calculations 
PLoS Computational Biology  2011;7(3):e1002011.
α-Conotoxins potently inhibit isoforms of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs), which are essential for neuronal and neuromuscular transmission. They are also used as neurochemical tools to study nAChR physiology and are being evaluated as drug leads to treat various neuronal disorders. A number of experimental studies have been performed to investigate the structure-activity relationships of conotoxin/nAChR complexes. However, the structural determinants of their binding interactions are still ambiguous in the absence of experimental structures of conotoxin-receptor complexes. In this study, the binding modes of α-conotoxin ImI to the α7-nAChR, currently the best-studied system experimentally, were investigated using comparative modeling and molecular dynamics simulations. The structures of more than 30 single point mutants of either the conotoxin or the receptor were modeled and analyzed. The models were used to explain qualitatively the change of affinities measured experimentally, including some nAChR positions located outside the binding site. Mutational energies were calculated using different methods that combine a conformational refinement procedure (minimization with a distance dependent dielectric constant or explicit water, or molecular dynamics using five restraint strategies) and a binding energy function (MM-GB/SA or MM-PB/SA). The protocol using explicit water energy minimization and MM-GB/SA gave the best correlations with experimental binding affinities, with an R2 value of 0.74. The van der Waals and non-polar desolvation components were found to be the main driving force for binding of the conotoxin to the nAChR. The electrostatic component was responsible for the selectivity of the various ImI mutants. Overall, this study provides novel insights into the binding mechanism of α-conotoxins to nAChRs and the methodological developments reported here open avenues for computational scanning studies of a rapidly expanding range of wild-type and chemically modified α-conotoxins.
Author Summary
Conotoxins are peptide toxins extracted from the venom of carnivorous marine cone snails. Members of the α-conotoxin subfamily potently block nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs), which are involved in signal transmission between two neurons or between neurons and muscle fibers. nAChRs are important pharmacological targets due to their involvement in the transmission of pain stimuli and also in numerous neurone diseases and disorders. Their potency and specificity have led to the development of α-conotoxins as drug leads, and also to their use in the investigation of the role of nAChRs in various physiological processes. The most studied conotoxin/nAChR system, ImI/α7, was modeled in this study, and several computational methods were tested for their ability to explain the perturbations observed experimentally after introducing single point mutations into either ImI or the α7 receptor. The aim of this study was to establish a theoretical basis to rapidly identify new α-conotoxin mutants that might have improved specificity and affinity for a given receptor subtype. Furthermore, hundreds of thousands of conotoxins are predicted to exist, and computational methods are needed to help streamline the discovery of their molecular targets.
PMCID: PMC3048385  PMID: 21390272
15.  Proteomic Analysis Provides Insights on Venom Processing in Conus textile 
Journal of proteome research  2010;9(5):2292-2301.
Conus species of marine snails deliver a potent collection of toxins from the venom duct via a long proboscis attached to a harpoon tooth. Conotoxins are known to possess powerful neurological effects and some have been developed for therapeutic uses. Using mass-spectrometry based proteomics, qualitative and quantitative differences in conotoxin components were found in the proximal, central and distal sections of the C. textile venom duct suggesting specialization of duct sections for biosynthesis of particular conotoxins. Reversed phase HPLC followed by Orbitrap mass spectrometry and data analysis using SEQUEST and ProLuCID identified 31 conotoxin sequences and 25 post-translational modification (PTM) variants with King-Kong 2 peptide being the most abundant. Several previously unreported variants of known conopeptides and were found and this is the first time that HyVal is reported for a disulfide rich Conus peptide. Differential expression along the venom duct, production of PTM variants, alternative proteolytic cleavage sites, and venom processing enroute to the proboscis all appear to contribute to enriching the combinatorial pool of conopeptides and producing the appropriate formulation for a particular hunting situation. The complimentary tools of mass spectrometry-based proteomics and molecular biology can greatly accelerate the discovery of Conus peptides and provide insights on envenomation and other biological strategies of cone snails.
PMCID: PMC2909976  PMID: 20334424
conotoxin; conopeptides; proteomics; differential expression; post-translational modification; Orbitrap
16.  Genetic divergence and geographic variation in the deep-water Conus orbignyi complex (Mollusca: Conoidea) 
Zoologica scripta  2011;40(4):350-363.
Puillandre, N. et al. (2010) Genetic divergence and geographic variation in a deep-water cone lineage: molecular and morphological analyses of the Conus orbignyi complex (Mollusca: Conoidea).
The cone snails (family Conidae) are a hyperdiverse lineage of venomous gastropods. Two standard markers, COI and ITS2, were used to define six genetically-divergent groups within a subclade of Conidae that includes Conus orbignyi; each of these was then evaluated based on their shell morphology. We conclude that three forms, previously regarded as subspecies of Conus orbignyi are distinct species, now recognized as Conus orbignyi, Conus elokismenos and Conus coriolisi. In addition, three additional species (Conus pseudorbignyi, Conus joliveti and Conus comatosa) belong to this clade. Some of the proposed species (e.g., Conus elokismenos) are possibly in turn complexes comprising multiple species. Groups such as Conidae illustrate the challenges generally faced in species delimitation in biodiverse lineages. In the case of the Conus orbignyi complex, not only are there definable, genetically divergent lineages, but also considerable geographic variation within each group. Our study suggests that an intensive analysis of multiple specimens within a single locality helps to minimize the confounding effects of geographic variation and can be a useful starting point for circumscribing different species within such a confusing complex.
PMCID: PMC3123138  PMID: 21712968
COI gene; Conidae; ITS2 gene; Phylogeny; Species delimitation
17.  Molecular Evolution and Diversity of Conus Peptide Toxins, as Revealed by Gene Structure and Intron Sequence Analyses 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e82495.
Cone snails, which are predatory marine gastropods, produce a cocktail of venoms used for predation, defense and competition. The major venom component, conotoxin, has received significant attention because it is useful in neuroscience research, drug development and molecular diversity studies. In this study, we report the genomic characterization of nine conotoxin gene superfamilies from 18 Conus species and investigate the relationships among conotoxin gene structure, molecular evolution and diversity. The I1, I2, M, O2, O3, P, S, and T superfamily precursors all contain three exons and two introns, while A superfamily members contain two exons and one intron. The introns are conserved within a certain gene superfamily, and also conserved across different Conus species, but divergent among different superfamilies. The intronic sequences contain many simple repeat sequences and regulatory elements that may influence conotoxin gene expression. Furthermore, due to the unique gene structure of conotoxins, the base substitution rates and the number of positively selected sites vary greatly among exons. Many more point mutations and trinucleotide indels were observed in the mature peptide exon than in the other exons. In addition, the first example of alternative splicing in conotoxin genes was found. These results suggest that the diversity of conotoxin genes has been shaped by point mutations and indels, as well as rare gene recombination or alternative splicing events, and that the unique gene structures could have made a contribution to the evolution of conotoxin genes.
PMCID: PMC3862624  PMID: 24349297
18.  Alpha-conotoxins as pharmacological probes of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors 
Acta pharmacologica Sinica  2009;30(6):771.
Cysteine-rich peptides from the venom of cone snails (Conus) target a wide variety of different ion channels. One family of conopeptides, the α-conotoxins, specifically target different isoforms of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) found both in the neuromuscular junction and central nervous system. This family is further divided into subfamilies based on the number of amino acids between cysteine residues. The exquisite subtype selectivity of certain α-conotoxins has been key to the characterization of native nAChR isoforms involved in modulation of neurotransmitter release, the pathophysiology of Parkinson’s disease and nociception. Structure/function characterization of α-conotoxins has led to the development of analogs with improved potency and/or subtype-selectivity. Cyclization of the backbone structure and addition of lipophilic moieties has led to improved stability and bioavailability of α-conotoxins, thus paving the way for orally available therapeutics. The recent advances in phylogeny, exogenomics and molecular modeling promises the discovery of an even greater number of α-conotoxins and analogs with improved selectivity for specific subtypes of nAChRs.
PMCID: PMC2814007  PMID: 19448650
Conus; nicotine; alpha-conotoxin; muscle nicotinic acetylcholine receptor; neuronal nicotinc acetylcholine receptor; Torpedo; AChBP
19.  Alpha-conotoxins as pharmacological probes of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors 
Acta Pharmacologica Sinica  2009;30(6):771-783.
Cysteine-rich peptides from the venom of cone snails (Conus) target a wide variety of different ion channels. One family of conopeptides, the α-conotoxins, specifically target different isoforms of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) found both in the neuromuscular junction and central nervous system. This family is further divided into subfamilies based on the number of amino acids between cysteine residues. The exquisite subtype selectivity of certain α-conotoxins has been key to the characterization of native nAChR isoforms involved in modulation of neurotransmitter release, the pathophysiology of Parkinson's disease and nociception. Structure/function characterization of α-conotoxins has led to the development of analogs with improved potency and/or subtype selectivity. Cyclization of the backbone structure and addition of lipophilic moieties has led to improved stability and bioavailability of α-conotoxins, thus paving the way for orally available therapeutics. The recent advances in phylogeny, exogenomics and molecular modeling promises the discovery of an even greater number of α-conotoxins and analogs with improved selectivity for specific subtypes of nAChRs.
PMCID: PMC2814007  PMID: 19448650
Conus; nicotine; alpha-conotoxin; muscle nicotinic acetylcholine receptor; neuronal nicotinc acetylcholine receptor; Torpedo; AChBP
20.  Conotoxin Gene Superfamilies 
Marine Drugs  2014;12(12):6058-6101.
Conotoxins are the peptidic components of the venoms of marine cone snails (genus Conus). They are remarkably diverse in terms of structure and function. Unique potency and selectivity profiles for a range of neuronal targets have made several conotoxins valuable as research tools, drug leads and even therapeutics, and has resulted in a concerted and increasing drive to identify and characterise new conotoxins. Conotoxins are translated from mRNA as peptide precursors, and cDNA sequencing is now the primary method for identification of new conotoxin sequences. As a result, gene superfamily, a classification based on precursor signal peptide identity, has become the most convenient method of conotoxin classification. Here we review each of the described conotoxin gene superfamilies, with a focus on the structural and functional diversity present in each. This review is intended to serve as a practical guide to conotoxin superfamilies and to facilitate interpretation of the increasing number of conotoxin precursor sequences being identified by targeted-cDNA sequencing and more recently high-throughput transcriptome sequencing.
PMCID: PMC4278219  PMID: 25522317
conotoxin; gene superfamily; conopeptide; Conus; venom; toxin
21.  Characterization of the peptidylglycine α-amidating monooxygenase (PAM) from the venom ducts of neogastropods, Conus bullatus and Conus geographus 
Cone snails, genus Conus, are predatory marine snails that use venom to capture their prey. This venom contains a diverse array of peptide toxins, known as conotoxins, which undergo a diverse set of posttranslational modifications. Amidating enzymes modify peptides and proteins containing a C-terminal glycine residue, resulting in loss of the glycine residue and amidation of the preceding residue. A significant fraction of peptides present in the venom of cone snails contain C-terminal amidated residues, which are important for optimizing biological activity. This study describes the characterization of the amidating enzyme, peptidylglycine α-amidating monooxygenase (PAM), present in the venom duct of cone snails, Conus bullatus and Conus geographus.
PAM is known to carry out two functions, peptidyl α-hydroxylating monooxygenase (PHM) and peptidylamido-glycolate lyase (PAL). In some animals, such as Drosophila melanogaster, these two functions are present in separate polypeptides, working as individual enzymes. In other animals, such as mammals and in Aplysia californica, PAM activity resides in a single, bifunctional polypeptide. Using specific oligonucleotide primers and reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction we have identified and cloned from the venom duct cDNA library, a cDNA with 49% homology to PAM from A. californica. We have determined that both the PHM and PAL activities are encoded in one mRNA polynucleotide in both C. bullatus and C. geographus. We have directly demonstrated enzymatic activity catalyzing the conversion of dansyl-YVG-COOH to dansyl-YV-NH2 in cloned cDNA expressed in Drosophila S2 cells.
PMCID: PMC4286251  PMID: 23994590
Posttranslational modification; Conotoxins; Peptidylglycine α-amidating; monooxygenase
22.  α-Conopeptides Specifically Expressed in the Salivary Gland of Conus pulicarius† 
To date, studies conducted on cone snail venoms have attributed the origins of this complex mixture of neuroactive peptides entirely to gene expression by the secretory cells lining the lumen of the venom duct. However, specialized tissues such as the salivary glands also secrete their contents into the anterior gut and could potentially contribute some venom components injected into target animals; evidence supporting this possibility is reported here. Sequence analysis of a cDNA library created from a salivary gland of Conus pulicarius revealed the expression of two transcripts whose predicted gene products, after post-translational processing, strikingly resemble mature conopeptides belonging to the α-conotoxin family. These two transcripts, like α-conotoxin transcripts, putatively encode mature peptides containing the conserved A-superfamily cysteine pattern (CC-C-C) but, the highly conserved A-superfamily signal sequences were not present. Analysis of A-superfamily members expressed in the venom duct of the same C. pulicarius specimens revealed three putative α-conotoxin sequences; the salivary gland transcripts were not found in the venom duct cDNA library, suggesting that these α-conotoxins are salivary gland-specific. Therefore, expression of conotoxin-like gene products by the salivary gland could potentially add to the complexity of Conus venoms.
PMCID: PMC2543058  PMID: 18625510
Conus pulicarius; α-conotoxins; cDNA libraries; salivary gland; alpha4/7; conopeptide; exogenomics
23.  Neogastropod phylogenetic relationships based on entire mitochondrial genomes 
The Neogastropoda is a highly diversified group of predatory marine snails (Gastropoda: Caenogastropoda). Traditionally, its monophyly has been widely accepted based on several morphological synapomorphies mostly related with the digestive system. However, recent molecular phylogenetic studies challenged the monophyly of Neogastropoda due to the inclusion of representatives of other caenogastropod lineages (e.g. Littorinimorpha) within the group. Neogastropoda has been classified into up to six superfamilies including Buccinoidea, Muricoidea, Olivoidea, Pseudolivoidea, Conoidea, and Cancellarioidea. Phylogenetic relationships among neogastropod superfamilies remain unresolved.
The complete mitochondrial (mt) genomes of seven Neogastropoda (Bolinus brandaris, Cancellaria cancellata, Conus borgesi, Cymbium olla, Fusiturris similis, Nassarius reticulatus, and Terebra dimidiata) and of the tonnoidean Cymatium parthenopeum (Littorinimorpha), a putative sister group to Neogastropoda, were sequenced. In addition, the partial sequence of the mitochondrial genome of the calyptraeoidean Calyptraea chinensis (Littorinimorpha) was also determined. All sequenced neogastropod mt genomes shared a highly conserved gene order with only two instances of tRNA gene translocation. Phylogenetic relationships of Neogastropoda were inferred based on the 13 mt protein coding genes (both at the amino acid and nucleotide level) of all available caenogastropod mitochondrial genomes. Maximum likelihood (ML) and Bayesian inference (BI) phylogenetic analyses failed to recover the monophyly of Neogastropoda due to the inclusion of the tonnoidean Cymatium parthenopeum within the group. At the superfamily level, all phylogenetic analyses questioned the taxonomic validity of Muricoidea, whereas the monophyly of Conoidea was supported by most phylogenetic analyses, albeit weakly. All analyzed families were recovered as monophyletic except Turridae due to the inclusion of Terebridae. Further phylogenetic analyses based on either a four mt gene data set including two additional Littorinimorpha or combining mt and nuclear sequence data also rejected the monophyly of Neogastropoda but rendered rather unresolved topologies. The phylogenetic performance of each mt gene was evaluated under ML. The total number of resolved internal branches of the reference (whole-mt genome) topology was not recovered in any of the individual gene phylogenetic analysis. The cox2 gene recovered the highest number of congruent internal branches with the reference topology, whereas the combined tRNA genes, cox1, and atp8 showed the lowest phylogenetic performance.
Phylogenetic analyses based on complete mt genome data resolved a higher number of internal branches of the caenogastropod tree than individual mt genes. All performed phylogenetic analyses agreed in rejecting the monophyly of the Neogastropoda due to the inclusion of Littorinimorpha lineages within the group. This result challenges morphological evidence, and prompts for further re-evaluation of neogastropod morphological synapomorphies. The important increase in number of analyzed positions with respect to previous studies was not enough to achieve conclusive results regarding phylogenetic relationships within Neogastropoda. In this regard, sequencing of complete mtDNAs from all closely related caenogastropod lineages is needed. Nevertheless, the rapid radiation at the origin of Neogastropoda may not allow full resolution of this phylogeny based only on mt data, and in parallel more nuclear sequence data will also need to be incorporated into the phylogenetic analyses.
PMCID: PMC2741453  PMID: 19698157
24.  Conotoxins Targeting Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors: An Overview 
Marine Drugs  2014;12(5):2970-3004.
Marine snails of the genus Conus are a large family of predatory gastropods with an unparalleled molecular diversity of pharmacologically active compounds in their venom. Cone snail venom comprises of a rich and diverse cocktail of peptide toxins which act on a wide variety of ion channels such as voltage-gated sodium- (NaV), potassium- (KV), and calcium- (CaV) channels as well as nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) which are classified as ligand-gated ion channels. The mode of action of several conotoxins has been the subject of investigation, while for many others this remains unknown. This review aims to give an overview of the knowledge we have today on the molecular pharmacology of conotoxins specifically interacting with nAChRs along with the structure–function relationship data.
PMCID: PMC4052327  PMID: 24857959
nicotinic acetylcholine receptor; cone snail toxins; α-conotoxins; mode of action; working mechanism; acetylcholine binding protein; crystallography; docking model
25.  Neuroprotective and cardioprotective conopeptides: An emerging class of drug leads 
The peptides in the venoms of predatory marine snails belonging to the genus Conus (‘cone snails’) have well-established therapeutic applications for the treatment of pain and epilepsy. This review discusses the neuroprotective and cardioprotective potential of four families of Conus peptides (conopeptides), including ω-conotoxins that target voltage-gated Ca2+ channels, conantokins that target NMDA receptors, μ-conotoxins that target voltage-gated Na+ channels, and κ- and κM-conotoxins that target K+ channels. The diversity of Conus peptides that have already been shown to exhibit neuroprotective/cardioprotective activity suggests that marine snail venoms are a potentially rich source of drug leads with diverse mechanisms.
PMCID: PMC2878759  PMID: 19333868
conopeptide; conotoxin; neuroprotection; cardioprotection; analgesic

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