Abstract

Conus venoms contain a remarkable diversity of pharmacologically active small peptides. Their targets are ion channels and receptors in the neuromuscular system. The venom of Conus geographus contains high-affinity peptides that act on voltage-sensitive calcium channels, sodium channels, N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors, acetylcholine receptors, and vasopressin receptors; many more peptides with still uncharacterized receptor targets are present in this venom. It now seems that the Conus species (approximately 500 in number) will each use a distinctive assortment of peptides and that the pharmacological diversity in Conus venoms may be ultimately comparable to that of plant alkaloids or secondary metabolites of microorganisms. The cone snails may generate this diverse spectrum of venom peptides by a "fold-lock-cut" synthetic pathway. These peptides are specific enough to discriminate effectively between closely related receptor subtypes and can be used for structure-function correlations.

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