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Drugs from the Sea: Conopeptides as Potential Therapeutics

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Marine cone snails from the genus Conus are estimated to consist of up to 700 species. These predatory molluscs have devised an efficient venom apparatus that allows them to successfully capture polychaete worms, other molluscs or in some cases fish as their primary food sources. The toxic venom used by the cone shells contains up to 50 different peptides that selectively inhibit the function of ion channels involved in the transmission of nerve signals in animals. Each of the 700 Conus species contains a unique set of peptides in their venom. Across the genus Conus, the conotoxins represent an extensive array of ion channel blockers each showing a high degree of selectivity for particular types of channels. We have undertaken a study of the conotoxins from Australian species of Conus that have the capacity to inhibit specifically the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in higher animals. These conotoxins have been identified by mass spectroscopy and their peptide sequences in some cases deduced by the application of modern molecular biology to the RNA extracted from venom ducts. The molecular biological approach has proven more powerful than earlier protein / peptide based technique tor the detection of novel conotoxins [1,2]. Novel conotoxins detected in this way have been further screened for their abilities to modify the responses of tissues to pain stimuli as a first step in describing their potential as lead compounds for novel drugs.

This review describes the progress made by several research groups to characterise the properties of conopeptides and to use them as drug leads for the development of novel therapeutics for the treatment of a range of neurological conditions.
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Keywords: Conus; Potential Therapeutics; conotoxins; peptide based; protein

Document Type: Review Article

Affiliations: Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, 3010, Australia

Publication date: 01 July 2004

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