A conotoxin is one of a group of neurotoxic peptides isolated from the venom of the marine cone snail, genus Conus.
Conotoxins, which are peptides consisting of 10 to 30 amino acid residues, typically have one or more disulfide bonds. Conotoxins have a variety of mechanisms of actions, most of which have not been determined. However it appears that many of these peptides modulate the activity of ion channels.
Types and biological activities of conotoxins
The number of conotoxins whose activities have been determined so far is five, and they are called the α(alpha)-, δ(delta)-, κ(kappa)-, μ(mu)-, and ω(omega)- types. Each of the five types of conotoxins attacks a different target:
Types of conotoxins also differ in the number and pattern of disulfide bonds. The disulfide bonding network, as well as specific amino acids in inter-cysteine loops, provide the specificity of conotoxins.
Omega, delta and kappa conotoxins
Omega, delta and kappa families of conotoxins have a knottin or inhibitor cysteine knot scaffold. The knottin scaffold is a very special disulfide-through-disulfide knot, in which the III-VI disulfide bond crosses the macrocycle formed by two other disulfide bonds (I-IV and II-V) and the interconnecting backbone segments, where I-VI indicates the six cysteine residues starting from the N-terminus. The cysteine arrangements are the same for omega, delta and kappa families, even though omega conotoxins are calcium channel blockers, whereas delta conotoxins delay the inactivation of sodium channels, and kappa conotoxins are potassium channel blockers.
Mu conotoxins have two types of cysteine arrangements, but the knottin scaffold is not observed. Mu conotoxins target the voltage-gated sodium channels, and are useful probes for investigating voltage-dependent sodium channels of excitable tissues.
Alpha conotoxins have two types of cysteine arrangements, and are competitive nicotinic acetylcholine receptor antagonists.