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Eur J Biochem. 2004 Jun;271(12):2305-19.

Alpha-conotoxins as tools for the elucidation of structure and function of neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subtypes.

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Max Planck-Institute for Brain Research, Frankfurt, Germany.


Cone snails comprise approximately 500 species of venomous molluscs, which have evolved the ability to generate multiple toxins with varied and often exquisite selectivity. One class, the alpha-conotoxins, is proving to be a powerful tool for the differentiation of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). These comprise a large family of complex subtypes, whose significance in physiological functions and pathological conditions is increasingly becoming apparent. After a short introduction into the structure and diversity of nAChRs, this overview summarizes the identification and characterization of alpha-conotoxins with selectivity for neuronal nAChR subtypes and provides examples of their use in defining the compositions and function of neuronal nAChR subtypes in native vertebrate tissues.

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