Indexed on: 24 May '06Published on: 24 May '06Published in: Biochemical Pharmacology
Venomous species have evolved cocktails of bioactive peptides to facilitate prey capture. Given their often exquisite potency and target selectivity, venom peptides provide unique biochemical tools for probing the function of membrane proteins at the molecular level. In the field of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs), the subtype specific snake alpha-neurotoxins and cone snail alpha-conotoxins have been widely used to probe receptor structure and function in native tissues and recombinant systems. However, only recently has it been possible to generate an accurate molecular view of these nAChR-toxin interactions. Crystal structures of AChBP, a homologue of the nAChR ligand binding domain, have now been solved in complex with alpha-cobratoxin, alpha-conotoxin PnIA and alpha-conotoxin ImI. The orientation of all three toxins in the ACh binding site confirms many of the predictions obtained from mutagenesis and docking simulations on homology models of mammalian nAChR. The precise understanding of the molecular determinants of these complexes is expected to contribute to the development of more selective nAChR modulators. In this commentary, we review the structural data on nAChR-toxin interactions and discuss their implications for the design of novel ligands acting at the nAChR.