Peptides and genes coding for scorpion toxins that affect ion-channels

Biochimie. Sep-Oct 2000;82(9-10):861-8. doi: 10.1016/s0300-9084(00)01167-6.


Most scorpion toxins are ligand peptides that recognize and bind to integral membrane proteins known as ion-channels. To date there are at least 202 distinct sequences described, obtained from 30 different species of scorpions, 27 from the family Buthidae and three from the family Scorpionidae. Toxins that recognize potassium and chloride channels are usually from 29 to 41 amino acids long, stabilized by three or four disulfide bridges, whereas those that recognize sodium channels are longer, 60 to 76 amino acid residues, compacted by four disulfide bridges. Toxins specific for calcium channels are scarcely known and have variable amino acid lengths. The entire repertoire of toxins, independently of their specificity, was analyzed together by computational programs and a phylogenetic tree was built showing two separate branches. The K(+) and Cl(-) channel specific toxins are clustered into 14 subfamilies, whereas those of Na(+) and Ca(2+) specific toxins comprise at least 12 subfamilies. There are clear similarities among them, both in terms of primary sequence and the main three-dimensional folding pattern. A dense core formed by a short alpha helix segment and several antiparallel beta-sheet stretches, maintained by disulfide pairing, seems to be a common structural feature present in all toxins. The physiological function of these peptides is manifested by a blockage of ion passage through the channels or by a modification of the gating mechanism that controls opening and closing of the ion pore.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Ion Channels / drug effects*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Peptides / chemistry
  • Peptides / genetics
  • Peptides / pharmacology*
  • Phylogeny
  • Protein Folding
  • Protein Structure, Secondary
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Scorpion Venoms / chemistry
  • Scorpion Venoms / genetics
  • Scorpion Venoms / pharmacology*
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid


  • Ion Channels
  • Peptides
  • Scorpion Venoms