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PLoS One. 2013;8(1):e54648. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0054648. Epub 2013 Jan 30.

A novel inhibitor of α9α10 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors from Conus vexillum delineates a new conotoxin superfamily.

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Key Laboratory of Tropical Biological Resources, Ministry of Education, Hainan University, Haikou, Hainan, China.


Conotoxins (CTxs) selectively target a range of ion channels and receptors, making them widely used tools for probing nervous system function. Conotoxins have been previously grouped into superfamilies according to signal sequence and into families based on their cysteine framework and biological target. Here we describe the cloning and characterization of a new conotoxin, from Conus vexillum, named αB-conotoxin VxXXIVA. The peptide does not belong to any previously described conotoxin superfamily and its arrangement of Cys residues is unique among conopeptides. Moreover, in contrast to previously characterized conopeptide toxins, which are expressed initially as prepropeptide precursors with a signal sequence, a ''pro'' region, and the toxin-encoding region, the precursor sequence of αB-VxXXIVA lacks a ''pro'' region. The predicted 40-residue mature peptide, which contains four Cys, was synthesized in each of the three possible disulfide arrangements. Investigation of the mechanism of action of αB-VxXXIVA revealed that the peptide is a nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) antagonist with greatest potency against the α9α10 subtype. (1)H nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectra indicated that all three αB-VxXXIVA isomers were poorly structured in aqueous solution. This was consistent with circular dichroism (CD) results which showed that the peptides were unstructured in buffer, but adopted partially helical conformations in aqueous trifluoroethanol (TFE) solution. The α9α10 nAChR is an important target for the development of analgesics and cancer chemotherapeutics, and αB-VxXXIVA represents a novel ligand with which to probe the structure and function of this protein.

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