A Venomics Approach Coupled to High-Throughput Toxin Production Strategies Identifies the First Venom-Derived Melanocortin Receptor Agonists

J Med Chem. 2020 Aug 13;63(15):8250-8264. doi: 10.1021/acs.jmedchem.0c00485. Epub 2020 Jul 16.


Animal venoms are rich in hundreds of toxins with extraordinary biological activities. Their exploitation is difficult due to their complexity and the small quantities of venom available from most venomous species. We developed a Venomics approach combining transcriptomic and proteomic characterization of 191 species and identified 20,206 venom toxin sequences. Two complementary production strategies based on solid-phase synthesis and recombinant expression in Escherichia coli generated a physical bank of 3597 toxins. Screened on hMC4R, this bank gave an incredible hit rate of 8%. Here, we focus on two novel toxins: N-TRTX-Preg1a, exhibiting an inhibitory cystine knot (ICK) motif, and N-BUTX-Ptr1a, a short scorpion-CSαβ structure. Neither N-TRTX-Preg1a nor N-BUTX-Ptr1a affects ion channels, the known targets of their toxin scaffolds, but binds to four melanocortin receptors with low micromolar affinities and activates the hMC1R/Gs pathway. Phylogenetically, these two toxins form new groups within their respective families and represent novel hMC1R agonists, structurally unrelated to the natural agonists.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • HEK293 Cells
  • High-Throughput Screening Assays / methods
  • Humans
  • Proteomics / methods*
  • Receptors, Melanocortin / agonists*
  • Receptors, Melanocortin / metabolism
  • Scorpion Venoms / genetics
  • Scorpion Venoms / isolation & purification
  • Scorpion Venoms / metabolism
  • Scorpion Venoms / pharmacology*


  • Receptors, Melanocortin
  • Scorpion Venoms