A synthetic combinatorial strategy for developing alpha-conotoxin analogs as potent alpha7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor antagonists

J Biol Chem. 2010 Jan 15;285(3):1809-21. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M109.071183. Epub 2009 Nov 9.


alpha-Conotoxins are peptide neurotoxins isolated from venomous cone snails that display exquisite selectivity for different subtypes of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChR). They are valuable research tools that have profound implications in the discovery of new drugs for a myriad of neuropharmacological conditions. They are characterized by a conserved two-disulfide bond framework, which gives rise to two intervening loops of extensively mutated amino acids that determine their selectivity for different nAChR subtypes. We have used a multistep synthetic combinatorial approach using alpha-conotoxin ImI to develop potent and selective alpha(7) nAChR antagonists. A positional scan synthetic combinatorial library was constructed based on the three residues of the n-loop of alpha-conotoxin ImI to give a total of 10,648 possible combinations that were screened for functional activity in an alpha(7) nAChR Fluo-4/Ca2+ assay, allowing amino acids that confer antagonistic activity for this receptor to be identified. A second series of individual alpha-conotoxin analogs based on the combinations of defined active amino acid residues from positional scan synthetic combinatorial library screening data were synthesized. Several analogs exhibited significantly improved antagonist activity for the alpha(7) nAChR compared with WT-ImI. Binding interactions between the analogs and the alpha(7) nAChR were explored using a homology model of the amino-terminal domain based on a crystal structure of an acetylcholine-binding protein. Finally, a third series of refined analogs was synthesized based on modeling studies, which led to several analogs with refined pharmacological properties. Of the 96 individual alpha-conotoxin analogs synthesized, three displayed > or =10-fold increases in antagonist potency compared with WT-ImI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Cell Line
  • Combinatorial Chemistry Techniques
  • Conotoxins / chemical synthesis
  • Conotoxins / chemistry*
  • Conotoxins / metabolism
  • Conotoxins / pharmacology*
  • Drug Discovery*
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Conformation
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Nicotinic Antagonists / chemical synthesis
  • Nicotinic Antagonists / chemistry*
  • Nicotinic Antagonists / metabolism
  • Nicotinic Antagonists / pharmacology*
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / chemistry
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / metabolism*
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • alpha7 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor


  • Chrna7 protein, human
  • Conotoxins
  • Ligands
  • Nicotinic Antagonists
  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • alpha7 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor