Cone Snail Venom: Lethal Compound A Target For New Drugs

Thousands of new peptide toxins hidden deep within the venom of one type of Queensland sea cone snail have been discovered by Australian researchers. The University of Queensland scientists hope the new molecules will be fruitful leads for new drugs to treat pain and cancer.

Professor Paul Alewood, of UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience, said:

“Cone snail venom is known to contain toxins proven to be valuable drug leads. This study gives the first-ever snapshot of the toxins that exist in the venom of a single cone snail. Cone snail venoms are a complex cocktail of many chemicals and most of these toxins have been overlooked in the past.”

Alewood’s team used biochemical and bioinformatics tools to come up with a new method for assessing the structure of the venom toxins, enabling them to explore deeper than ever before.

Their new method involved accurately measuring and analysing the structure, activity and composition of the diverse range of proteins within the venom. Using it, researchers found the highest number of peptides (mini-proteins) produced in a single cone snail.

“We also discovered six original ‘frameworks’ – 3D-shaped molecules suitable as drug leads – which we expect will support drug development in the near future,” Professor Alewood said. “We expect these newly discovered frameworks will also lead to new medications, which can be used to treat pain, cancer and a range of other diseases.”

Only 25 known frameworks have been discovered over the past 25 years, many of which have already led to a drug or drug lead for several diseases.

Conus episcopatus, the cone snail species studied by the researchers lives along the east coast of Australia. It is one among 700 different species of cone snails.

Vincent Lavergne, Ivon Harliwong, Alun Jones, David Miller, Ryan J. Taft, and Paul F. Alewood
Optimized deep-targeted proteotranscriptomic profiling reveals unexplored Conus toxin diversity and novel cysteine frameworks
PNAS July 6, 2015 doi: 10.1073/pnas.1501334112

Photo: “Conus-geographicus” by Kerry Matz National Institute of General Medical Services. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons