The cystine knot motif in toxins and implications for drug design

Toxicon. 2001 Jan;39(1):43-60. doi: 10.1016/s0041-0101(00)00160-4.


The cystine knot structural motif is present in peptides and proteins from a variety of species, including fungi, plants, marine molluscs, insects and spiders. It comprises an embedded ring formed by two disulfide bonds and their connecting backbone segments which is threaded by a third disulfide bond. It is invariably associated with nearby beta-sheet structure and appears to be a highly efficient motif for structure stabilization. Because of this stability it makes an ideal framework for molecular engineering applications. In this review we summarize the main structural features of the cystine knot motif, focussing on toxin molecules containing either the inhibitor cystine knot or the cyclic cystine knot. Peptides containing these motifs are 26-48 residues long and include ion channel blockers, haemolytic agents, as well as molecules having antiviral and antibacterial activities. The stability of peptide toxins containing the cystine knot motif, their range of bioactivities and their unique structural scaffold can be harnessed for molecular engineering applications and in drug design. Applications of cystine knot molecules for the treatment of pain, and their potential use in antiviral and antibacterial applications are described.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Cystine / chemistry*
  • Drug Design*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Folding
  • Toxins, Biological / chemistry*


  • Toxins, Biological
  • Cystine