Conus peptides targeted to specific nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subtypes

Annu Rev Biochem. 1999:68:59-88. doi: 10.1146/annurev.biochem.68.1.59.


The venoms of predatory cone snails represent a rich combinatorial-like library of evolutionarily selected, neuropharmacologically active peptides. A major fraction of the venom components are conotoxins--small, disulfide-rich peptides that potently and specifically target components of the neuromuscular system, particularly ligand- and voltage-gated ion channels. This review focuses on Conus peptides, which act at nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. These nicotinic antagonist peptides from Conus are broadly divided into two groups: those that act at the neuromuscular junction and those that act at subtypes of neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. The latter include peptides specific for the alpha 7, alpha 3 beta 2, and alpha 3 beta 4 nicotinic receptor subtypes. The degree of specificity exhibited by these peptides is remarkable, particularly given their relatively small size. As a group the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor-targeted Conus peptides represent an increasingly well-defined set of tools for probing the structure, function, and physiological role of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conotoxins / chemistry
  • Conotoxins / metabolism*
  • Mollusca / chemistry*
  • Muscles / drug effects
  • Muscles / metabolism
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / classification
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / metabolism*
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Conotoxins
  • Receptors, Nicotinic