Background: The venom of predatory marine cone snails mainly contains a diverse array of unique bioactive peptides commonly referred to as conopeptides or conotoxins. These peptides have proven to be valuable pharmacological probes and potential drugs because of their high specificity and affinity to important ion channels, receptors and transporters of the nervous system. Most previous studies have focused specifically on the conopeptides from piscivorous and molluscivorous cone snails, but little attention has been devoted to the dominant vermivorous species.
Results: The vermivorous Chinese tubular cone snail, Conus betulinus, is the dominant Conus species inhabiting the South China Sea. The transcriptomes of venom ducts and venom bulbs from a variety of specimens of this species were sequenced using both next-generation sequencing and traditional Sanger sequencing technologies, resulting in the identification of a total of 215 distinct conopeptides. Among these, 183 were novel conopeptides, including nine new superfamilies. It appeared that most of the identified conopeptides were synthesized in the venom duct, while a handful of conopeptides were identified only in the venom bulb and at very low levels.
Conclusions: We identified 215 unique putative conopeptide transcripts from the combination of five transcriptomes and one EST sequencing dataset. Variation in conopeptides from different specimens of C. betulinus was observed, which suggested the presence of intraspecific variability in toxin production at the genetic level. These novel conopeptides provide a potentially fertile resource for the development of new pharmaceuticals, and a pathway for the discovery of new conotoxins.
Keywords: Cone snail; Conopeptide; Conotoxin; Conus betulinus; Transcriptome; Venom bulb; Venom duct.