Conotoxins are small bioactive highly structured peptides from the venom of marine cone snails (genus Conus). Over the past 50 million years these molluscs have developed a complex venom cocktail for each species that is comprised of 100-2000 distinct cysteine- rich peptides for prey capture and defence. This review focuses on an important and well-studied class of conotoxins, the α- conotoxins. These α-conotoxins are potent and selective antagonists of various subtypes of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). Key structure-activity relationship studies are presented to illustrate the common motifs, structural features and pharmacophores that define this interesting peptide class. Additionally, their synthesis, chemical modifications, the development of more selective and stable analogues and their therapeutic potential are discussed.
Keywords: -conotoxins, Conus, peptide synthesis, post-translational modifications, structure-activity relationships, nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs), pharmacophores, cysteine residues, Radioactive iodine labeling, Point mutations