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Biochem J. 2013 Aug 1;453(3):447-54. doi: 10.1042/BJ20130549.

Preparation and in vivo characterization of a cocaine hydrolase engineered from human butyrylcholinesterase for metabolizing cocaine.

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  • 1Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, College of Pharmacy, University of Kentucky, 789 South Limestone Street, Lexington, KY 40536, USA.


Cocaine is a widely abused drug without an FDA (Food and Drug Administration)-approved medication. It has been recognized that an ideal anti-cocaine medication would accelerate cocaine metabolism producing biologically inactive metabolites via a route similar to the primary cocaine-metabolizing pathway, i.e. human BChE (butyrylcholinesterase)-catalysed hydrolysis. However, the native human BChE has a low catalytic activity against cocaine. We recently designed and discovered a BChE mutant (A199S/F227A/S287G/A328W/Y332G) with a high catalytic activity (kcat=5700 min-1, Km=3.1 μM) specifically for cocaine, and the mutant was proven effective in protecting mice from acute cocaine toxicity of a lethal dose of cocaine (180 mg/kg of body weight, LD100). Further characterization in animal models requires establishment of a high-efficiency stable cell line for the BChE mutant production at a relatively larger scale. It has been extremely challenging to develop a high-efficiency stable cell line expressing BChE or its mutant. In the present study, we successfully developed a stable cell line efficiently expressing the BChE mutant by using a lentivirus-based repeated-transduction method. The scaled-up protein production enabled us to determine for the first time the in vivo catalytic activity and the biological half-life of this high-activity mutant of human BChE in accelerating cocaine clearance. In particular, it has been demonstrated that the BChE mutant (administered to mice 1 min prior to cocaine) can quickly metabolize cocaine and completely eliminate cocaine-induced hyperactivity in rodents, implying that the BChE mutant may be developed as a promising therapeutic agent for cocaine abuse treatment.

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