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1.  Molecular basis for the differential sensitivity of rat and human α9α10 nAChRs to α-conotoxin RgIA 
Journal of neurochemistry  2012;122(6):1137-1144.
The α9α10 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) may be a potential target in pathophysiology of the auditory system, chronic pain and breast and lung cancers. Alpha-conotoxins, from the predatory marine snail Conus, are potent nicotinic antagonists, some of which are selective for the α9α10 nAChR. Here we report a two-order of magnitude species difference in the potency of α-conotoxin RgIA for the rat vs. human α9α10 nAChR. We investigated the molecular mechanism of this difference. Heterologous expression of the rat α9 with the human α10 subunit in Xenopus oocytes resulted in a receptor that was blocked by RgIA with potency similar to that of the rat α9α10 nAChR. Conversely, expression of the human α9 with that of the rat α10 subunit resulted in a receptor that was blocked by RgIA with potency approaching that of the human α9α10 receptor. Systematic substitution of residues found in the human α9 subunit into the homologous position in the rat α9 subunit revealed that a single point mutation, Thr56 to Ile56, primarily accounts for this species difference. Remarkably, although the α9 nAChR subunit has previously been reported to provide the principal (+) binding face for binding of RgIA, Thr56 is located in the (−) complementary binding face.
PMCID: PMC3433650  PMID: 22774872
nicotinic; conotoxin; structure-activity; acetylcholine; point-mutant; species difference
2.  Synergistic and Antagonistic Interactions between Tetrodotoxin and μ-Conotoxin in Blocking Voltage-gated Sodium Channels 
Channels (Austin, Tex.)  2009;3(1):32-38.
Tetrodotoxin (TTX) is the quintessential ligand of voltage-gated sodium channels (NaVs). Like TTX, μ-conotoxin peptides are pore blockers, and both toxins have helped to define the properties of neurotoxin receptor Site 1 of NaVs. Here, we report unexpected results showing that the recently discovered μ-conotoxin KIIIA and TTX can simultaneously bind to Site 1 and act in concert. Results with saturating concentrations of peptide applied to voltage-clamped Xenopus oocytes expressing brain NaV1.2, and single-channel recordings from brain channels in lipid bilayers, show that KIIIA or its analog, KIIIA[K7A], block partially, with a residual current that can be completely blocked by TTX. In addition, the kinetics of block by TTX and peptide are each affected by the prior presence of the other toxin. For example, bound peptide slows subsequent binding of TTX (an antagonistic interaction) and slows TTX dissociation when both toxins are bound (a synergistic effect on block). The overall functional consequence resulting from the combined action of the toxins depends on the quantitative balance between these opposing actions. The results lead us to postulate that in the bi-liganded NaV complex, TTX is bound between the peptide and the selectivity filter. These observations refine our view of Site 1 and open new possibilities in NaV pharmacology.
PMCID: PMC2878737  PMID: 19221510
conotoxin; contratoxin; NaV1.2; oocyte; sodium channel; site 1; syntoxin; tetrodotoxin; voltage clamp
3.  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
4.  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
5.  Specificity, affinity and efficacy of iota-conotoxin RXIA, an agonist of voltage-gated sodium channels NaV1.2, 1.6 and 1.7 
Biochemical pharmacology  2008;75(12):2334-2344.
The excitotoxic conopeptide ι-RXIA induces repetitive action potentials in frog motor axons and seizures upon intracranial injection into mice. We recently discovered that ι-RXIA shifts the voltage-dependence of activation of voltage-gated sodium channel NaV1.6 to a more hyperpolarized level. Here, we performed voltage-clamp experiments to examine its activity against rodent NaV1.1 through NaV1.7 co-expressed with the β1 subunit in Xenopus oocytes and NaV1.8 in dissociated mouse DRG neurons. The order of sensitivity to ι-RXIA was NaV1.6 > 1.2 > 1.7, and the remaining subtypes were insensitive. The time course of ι-RXIA-activity on NaV1.6 during exposure to different peptide concentrations were well fit by single-exponential curves that provided kobs. The plot of kobs versus [ι-RXIA] was linear, consistent with a bimolecular reaction with a Kd of ~3 μM, close to the steady-state EC50 of ~2 μM. ι-RXIA has an unusual residue, D-Phe, and the analog with an L-Phe instead, ι-RXIA[L-Phe44], had a two-fold lower affinity and two-fold faster off-rate than ι-RXIA on NaV1.6 and furthermore was inactive on NaV1.2. ι-RXIA induced repetitive action potentials in mouse sciatic nerve with conduction velocities of both A- and C-fibers, consistent with the presence of NaV1.6 at nodes of Ranvier as well as in unmyelinated axons. Sixteen peptides homologous to ι-RXIA have been identified from a single species of Conus, so these peptides represent a rich family of novel sodium channel-targeting ligands.
PMCID: PMC2700742  PMID: 18486102
channel-activation; conopeptide; excitotoxin; iota-conotoxin RXIA; neurotoxin; voltage-gated sodium channel
6.  Developmental regulation of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors within midbrain dopamine neurons 
Neuroscience  2006;144(4):1347-1360.
We have combined anatomical and functional methodologies to provide a comprehensive analysis of the properties of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) on developing dopamine (DA) neurons. Double-labeling in situ hybridization was used to examine the expression of nAChR subunit mRNAs within developing midbrain DA neurons. As brain maturation progressed there was a change in the pattern of subunit mRNA expression within DA neurons, such that α3 and α4 subunits declined and α6 mRNA increased. Although there were strong similarities in subunit mRNA expression in substantia nigra (SNc) and ventral tegmental area (VTA), there was higher expression of α4 mRNA in SNc than VTA at gestational day (G)15, and of α5, α6 and β3 mRNAs during postnatal development. Using a superfusion neurotransmitter release paradigm to functionally characterize nicotine-stimulated release of [3H]DA from striatal slices, the properties of the nAChRs on DA terminals were also found to change with age. Functional nAChRs were detected on striatal terminals at G18. There was a decrease in maximal release in the first postnatal week, followed by an increase in nicotine efficacy and potency during the second and third postnatal weeks. In the transition from adolescence (postnatal days (P) 30 and 40) to adulthood, there was a complex pattern of functional maturation of nAChRs in ventral, but not dorsal, striatum. In males, but not females, there were significant changes in both nicotine potency and efficacy during this developmental period. These findings suggest that nAChRs may play critical functional roles throughout DA neuronal maturation.
PMCID: PMC2020843  PMID: 17197101
adolescent; fetal; nicotine; sex; striatum; maternal smoking

Results 1-6 (6)