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Mol Pharmacol. 1989 Sep;36(3):349-54.

Onchidal: a naturally occurring irreversible inhibitor of acetylcholinesterase with a novel mechanism of action.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla 92093.


Onchidal has been identified as the major lipid-soluble component of the defensive secretion of the mollusc Onchidella binneyi, and it has been proposed as the compound responsible for the chemical protection of Onchidella [Bioorg. Chem. 7:125-131 (1978)]. In support of this hypothesis, we now report that onchidal can be found in several different species of Onchidella and that it is toxic to fish. Because onchidal is an acetate ester similar to acetylcholine, its ability to interact with nicotinic acetylcholine receptors and acetylcholinesterase was investigated. Although onchidal did not prevent the binding of 125I-alpha-bungarotoxin to nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, it inhibited acetylcholinesterase in a progressive, apparently irreversible, manner. The apparent affinity of onchidal for the initial reversible binding to acetylcholinesterase (Kd) was approximately 300 microM, and the apparent rate constant for the subsequent irreversible inhibition of enzyme activity (kintact) was approximately 0.1 min-1. Onchidal was a substrate for acetylcholinesterase, and approximately 3250 mol of onchidal were hydrolyzed/mol of enzyme irreversibly inhibited. The calculated kcat for onchidal was 325 min-1. Irreversible inhibition resulted from either onchidal itself or a reactive intermediate in the enzyme-catalyzed hydrolysis of onchidal, rather than from the hydrolysis products of onchidal. Irreversible inhibition of enzyme activity was prevented by coincubation with reversible agents that either sterically block (edrophonium and decamethonium) or allosterically modify (propidium) the acetylcholine binding site. Enzyme activity was not regenerated by incubation with oxime reactivators; therefore, the mechanism of irreversible inhibition does not appear to involve acylation of the active site serine. Because onchidal contains a potentially reactive alpha,beta-unsaturated aldehyde, irreversible inhibition of acetylcholinesterase may result from formation of a novel covalent bond between the toxin and the enzyme. Thus, this novel toxin could potentially be exploited in the design of a new class of anticholinesterase insecticides and in the identification of amino acids that contribute to the binding and hydrolysis of acetylcholine.

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