The modulation of acid-sensing ion channel 1 by PcTx1 is pH-, subtype- and species-dependent: Importance of interactions at the channel subunit interface and potential for engineering selective analogues

Biochem Pharmacol. 2019 May:163:381-390. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2019.03.004. Epub 2019 Mar 5.


Acid-sensing ion channels (ASICs) are primary acid sensors in the mammalian nervous system that are activated by protons under conditions of local acidosis. They have been implicated in a range of pathologies including ischemic stroke (ASIC1a subtype) and peripheral pain (ASIC1b and ASIC3). Although the spider venom peptide PcTx1 is the best-studied ASIC modulator and is neuroprotective in rodent models of ischemic stroke, little experimental work has been done to examine its molecular interaction with human ASIC1a or the off-target ASIC1b. The complementary face of the acidic pocket binding site of PcTx1 is where these channels differ in sequence. We show here that although PcTx1 is 10-fold less potent at human ASIC1a than the rat channel, the apparent affinity for the two channels is comparable. We examined the pharmacophore of PcTx1 for human ASIC1a and rat ASIC1b, and show that inhibitory and stimulatory effects at each ASIC1 variant is driven mostly by a shared set of core peptide pharmacophore residues that bind to the thumb domain, while peptide residues that interact with the complementary face of the biding site underlie species and subtype-dependent differences in activity that may allow manipulation of ASIC1 variant selectivity. Finally, the stimulatory effect of PcTx1 on rat ASIC1a when applied under mildly alkaline pH correlates with low receptor occupancy. These new insights into the interactions between PcTx1 with ASIC1 subtypes demonstrates the complexity of its mechanism of action, and highlights important implications to consider when using PcTx1 as a pharmacological tool to study ASIC function.

Keywords: Acid-sensing ion channel 1; Ion channel; Mechanism of action; PcTx1; Selectivity; Structure-activity relationship.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acid Sensing Ion Channels / chemistry
  • Acid Sensing Ion Channels / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Electrophysiological Phenomena / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Models, Molecular
  • Mutation
  • Oocytes / drug effects
  • Oocytes / physiology
  • Peptides / chemistry
  • Peptides / metabolism*
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Engineering
  • Protein Subunits
  • Rats
  • Species Specificity
  • Spider Venoms / chemistry
  • Spider Venoms / metabolism*
  • Xenopus laevis


  • ASIC1 protein, human
  • Acid Sensing Ion Channels
  • Asic1 protein, rat
  • PcTX1 protein, Psalmopoeus cambridgei
  • Peptides
  • Protein Subunits
  • Spider Venoms