A new study has revealed that the venom of cone snails, which are marine mollusks, just as conch, octopi and squid, but they capture their prey using venom, provides leads for detection and possible treatment of some cancers and addictions.
Scientist Frank Mari at Florida Atlantic University said that the venom produced by these animals immobilizes prey, which can be worms, other snails and fish and the venom is an extraordinary complex mixture of compounds with medicinal properties.
The venom components selectively target cells in the body and make them valuable drug leads and powerful molecular tools for understanding the human body's processes. One class of venom components is the alpha-conotoxins, named so because they target nicotinic receptors that are central to a range of diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, tobacco addiction and lung cancer.
The venom of a particular species of cone snail, Conus regius, is particularly rich in alpha conotoxins and the researchers found RegIIA, a compound that potently blocked the alpha3beta4 nicotinic receptor, among these. This particular receptor when activated can be associated with lung cancer and nicotine addiction.
Mari added that they investigated in detail how RegIIA interacts with the alpha3beta4 nicotinic receptors and embarked on engineering new compounds that were more specific toward alpha3beta4 receptors and not other nicotinic receptors.
Mari concluded that their aim is to open new avenues for cancer and addiction research inspired on compounds from marine animals.
The study is published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.