Snail Venom: A Sting In The Tail Of Cancer & Addiction

Cone snail toxins which selectively activate a specific nicotinic acetylcholine receptor could potentially treat lung cancer and nicotine addiction.

AsianScientist (Jan. 15, 2015) – Cone snail venom has given University of Queensland (UQ) researchers a lead on the possible detection and treatment of some cancers and addictions, according to a study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

UQ School of Biomedical Sciences’ Dr. Richard Clark explained that cone snails produced a venom that immobilized prey including worms, other snails and fish.

“This venom contains hundreds of different toxins that are highly potent and target specific receptors in their prey,” he said.

“The power and selectivity of these toxins make them both valuable drug leads and excellent molecular tools for understanding the human body’s processes.”

Clark said some of the toxins targeted the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) family, including one type of receptor associated with lung cancer and nicotine addiction: α3β4.

“These receptors in the nervous system play diverse roles and have been implicated in a range of diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, tobacco addiction and lung cancer. However, understanding of this process has been limited and it has been shown in previous studies that a specific toxin from the cone snail venom inactivated the α3β4 nAChR but also inactivated other types of nAChR,” he said.

“Our study focused on a specific toxin and we investigated its structure and how it worked to see if we could engineer a molecule that would only target the receptor associated with cancers and addictions. We were able to do this and it can now be used as a tool for studying these diseases.”

The researchers hope that future studies on cone snail venom would lead to potential drugs once more is known about the role of the α3β4 nAChR in different disease conditions.

The article can be found at: Kompella et al. (2015) Alanine Scan of α-Conotoxin RegIIA Reveals a Selective α3β4 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor Antagonist.


Source: University of Queensland.
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