Structure-Function of Neuronal Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor Inhibitors Derived From Natural Toxins

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Neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) are prototypical cation-selective, ligand-gated ion channels that mediate fast neurotransmission in the central and peripheral nervous systems. nAChRs are involved in a range of physiological and pathological functions and hence are important therapeutic targets. Their subunit homology and diverse pentameric assembly contribute to their challenging pharmacology and limit their drug development potential. Toxins produced by an extensive range of algae, plants and animals target nAChRs, with many proving pivotal in elucidating receptor pharmacology and biochemistry, as well as providing templates for structure-based drug design. The crystal structures of these toxins with diverse chemical profiles in complex with acetylcholine binding protein (AChBP), a soluble homolog of the extracellular ligand-binding domain of the nAChRs and more recently the extracellular domain of human α9 nAChRs, have been reported. These studies have shed light on the diverse molecular mechanisms of ligand-binding at neuronal nAChR subtypes and uncovered critical insights useful for rational drug design. This review provides a comprehensive overview and perspectives obtained from structure and function studies of diverse plant and animal toxins and their associated inhibitory mechanisms at neuronal nAChRs.

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