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Structure. 1998 Sep 15;6(9):1095-103.

An excitatory scorpion toxin with a distinctive feature: an additional alpha helix at the C terminus and its implications for interaction with insect sodium channels.

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  • 1The Wolfson Centre for Applied Structural Biology Institute of Life Sciences The Hebrew University of Jerusalem Givat Ram, Jerusalem, 91904, Israel.



Scorpion neurotoxins, which bind and modulate sodium channels, have been divided into two groups, the alpha and beta toxins, according to their activities. The beta-toxin class includes the groups of excitatory and depressant toxins, which differ in their mode of action and are highly specific against insects. The three-dimensional structures of several alpha and beta toxins have been determined at high resolution, but no detailed 3D structure of an excitatory toxin has been presented so far.


The crystal structure of an anti-insect excitatory toxin from the scorpion Buthotus judaicus, Bj-xtrIT, has been determined at 2.1 A resolution and refined to an R factor of 0.209. The first 59 residues form a closely packed module, structurally similar to the conserved alpha and beta toxins ('long toxins') affecting sodium channels. The last 17 residues form a C-terminal extension not previously seen in scorpion toxins. It comprises a short alpha helix anchored to the N-terminal module by a disulfide bridge and is followed by a highly mobile stretch of seven residues, of which only four are seen in the electron-density map. This mobile peptide covers part of a conserved hydrophobic surface that is thought to be essential for interaction with the channel in several long toxins.


Replacement of the last seven residues by a single glycine abolishes the activity of Bj-xtrIT, strongly suggesting that these residues are intimately involved in the interaction with the channel. Taken together with the partial shielding of the conserved hydrophobic surface and the proximity of the C terminus to an adjacent surface rich in charged residues, it seems likely that the bioactive surface of Bj-xtrIT is formed by residues surrounding the C terminus. The 3D structure and a recently developed expression system for Bj-xtrIT pave the way for identifying the structural determinants involved in the bioactivity and anti-insect specificity of excitatory toxins.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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