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Biochemistry. 2001 Nov 6;40(44):13201-8.

Delta-conotoxin structure/function through a cladistic analysis.

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Department of Biology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112, USA.


Delta-conotoxins are Conus peptides that inhibit inactivation of voltage-gated sodium channels. The suggestion that delta-conotoxins might be an essential component of the venoms of fish-hunting cone snails which rapidly immobilize their prey [Terlau, H., Shon, K., Grilley, M., Stocker, M., St├╝hmer, W., and Olivera, B. M. (1996) Nature 381, 148-151] has not been tested. On the basis of cDNA cloning, all of the fish-hunting Conus analyzed yielded at least one delta-conotoxin sequence. In addition, one delta-conotoxin isolated from the venom of Conus striatus had an amino acid sequence identical to that predicted from cDNA cloning. This new peptide exhibited properties of delta-conotoxins: it targeted sodium channels and potentiated action potentials by slowing channel inactivation. Homologous sequences of delta-conotoxins from two groups (clades) of related fish-hunting Conus species share consensus features but differ significantly from the two known delta-conotoxins from mollusc-hunting Conus venoms. Three large hydrophobic amino acids were conserved; analogues of the previously described delta-conotoxin PVIA with alanine substituted for the conserved amino acids F9 and I12 lost substantial biological activity. In contrast, both the T8A and K13A delta-conotoxin PVIA analogues, where substitutions were at nonconserved loci, proved to be biologically active. Taken together, our results indicate that a cladistic approach can identify amino acids critical for the activity of conotoxins and provide extensive information as to which amino acid substitutions can be made without significant functional consequences.

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