- The stinging hairs of plants from the family Urticaceae inject compounds that inflict pain to deter herbivores. The sting of the New Zealand tree nettle (Urtica ferox) is among the most painful of these and can cause systemic symptoms that can even be life-threatening; however, the molecular species effecting this response have not been elucidated. Here we reveal that two classes of peptide toxin are responsible for the symptoms of U. ferox stings: Δ-Uf1a is a cytotoxic thionin that causes pain via disruption of cell membranes, while β/δ-Uf2a defines a new class of neurotoxin that causes pain and systemic symptoms via modulation of voltage-gated sodium (NaV) channels.
- μ-Conotoxins are components of cone snail venom, well-known for their analgesic activity through potent inhibition of voltage-gated sodium channel (NaV) subtypes, including NaV1.7. These small, disulfide-rich peptides are typically stabilized by three disulfide bonds arranged in a ‘native’ CysI-CysIV, CysII-CysV, CysIII-CysVI pattern of disulfide connectivity. However, μ-conotoxin KIIIA, the smallest and most studied μ-conotoxin with inhibitory activity at NaV1.7, forms two distinct disulfide bond isomers during thermodynamic oxidative folding, including Isomer 1 (CysI-CysV, CysII-CysIV, CysIII-CysVI) and Isomer 2 (CysI-CysVI, CysII-CysIV, CysIII-CysV), but not the native μ-conotoxin arrangement.
- Huwentoxin-IV (HwTx-IV) is a gating modifier peptide toxin from spiders that has weak affinity for the lipid bilayer. As some gating modifier toxins have affinity for model lipid bilayers, a tripartite relationship among gating modifier toxins, voltage-gated ion channels, and the lipid membrane surrounding the channels has been proposed. We previously designed an HwTx-IV analogue (gHwTx-IV) with reduced negative charge and increased hydrophobic surface profile, which displays increased lipid bilayer affinity and in vitro activity at the voltage-gated sodium channel subtype 1.7 (NaV1.7), a channel targeted in pain management.
- The μO-conotoxins MrVIA, MrVIB, and MfVIA inhibit the voltage-gated sodium channel NaV1.8, a well described target for the treatment of pain; however, little is known about the residues or structural elements that define this activity. In this study, we determined the three-dimensional structure of MfVIA, examined its membrane binding properties, performed alanine-scanning mutagenesis, and identified residues important for its activity at human NaV1.8. A second round of mutations resulted in (E5K,E8K)MfVIA, a double mutant with greater positive surface charge and greater affinity for lipid membranes compared with MfVIA.