Specialized insulin is used for chemical warfare by fish-hunting cone snails.
ABSTRACT: More than 100 species of venomous cone snails (genus Conus) are highly effective predators of fish. The vast majority of venom components identified and functionally characterized to date are neurotoxins specifically targeted to receptors, ion channels, and transporters in the nervous system of prey, predators, or competitors. Here we describe a venom component targeting energy metabolism, a radically different mechanism. Two fish-hunting cone snails, Conus geographus and Conus tulipa, have evolved specialized insulins that are expressed as major components of their venoms. These insulins are distinctive in having much greater similarity to fish insulins than to the molluscan hormone and are unique in that posttranslational modifications characteristic of conotoxins (hydroxyproline, ?-carboxyglutamate) are present. When injected into fish, the venom insulin elicits hypoglycemic shock, a condition characterized by dangerously low blood glucose. Our evidence suggests that insulin is specifically used as a weapon for prey capture by a subset of fish-hunting cone snails that use a net strategy to capture prey. Insulin appears to be a component of the nirvana cabal, a toxin combination in these venoms that is released into the water to disorient schools of small fish, making them easier to engulf with the snail's distended false mouth, which functions as a net. If an entire school of fish simultaneously experiences hypoglycemic shock, this should directly facilitate capture by the predatory snail.
Project description:The fish-hunting marine cone snail Conus geographus uses a specialized venom insulin to induce hypoglycemic shock in its prey. We recently showed that this venom insulin, Con-Ins G1, has unique characteristics relevant to the design of new insulin therapeutics. Here, we show that fish-hunting cone snails provide a rich source of minimized ligands of the vertebrate insulin receptor. Insulins from C. geographus, Conus tulipa and Conus kinoshitai exhibit diverse sequences, yet all bind to and activate the human insulin receptor. Molecular dynamics reveal unique modes of action that are distinct from any other insulins known in nature. When tested in zebrafish and mice, venom insulins significantly lower blood glucose in the streptozotocin-induced model of diabetes. Our findings suggest that cone snails have evolved diverse strategies to activate the vertebrate insulin receptor and provide unique insight into the design of novel drugs for the treatment of diabetes.
Project description:A specialized insulin was recently found in the venom of a fish-hunting cone snail, Conus geographus Here we show that many worm-hunting and snail-hunting cones also express venom insulins, and that this novel gene family has diversified explosively. Cone snails express a highly conserved insulin in their nerve ring; presumably this conventional signaling insulin is finely tuned to the Conus insulin receptor, which also evolves very slowly. By contrast, the venom insulins diverge rapidly, apparently in response to biotic interactions with prey and also possibly the cones' own predators and competitors. Thus, the inwardly directed signaling insulins appear to experience predominantly purifying sele\ction to target an internal receptor that seldom changes, while the outwardly directed venom insulins frequently experience directional selection to target heterospecific insulin receptors in a changing mix of prey, predators and competitors. Prey insulin receptors may often be constrained in ways that prevent their evolutionary escape from targeted venom insulins, if amino-acid substitutions that result in escape also degrade the receptor's signaling functions.
Project description:Venomous animals are thought to inject the same combination of toxins for both predation and defence, presumably exploiting conserved target pharmacology across prey and predators. Remarkably, cone snails can rapidly switch between distinct venoms in response to predatory or defensive stimuli. Here, we show that the defence-evoked venom of Conus geographus contains high levels of paralytic toxins that potently block neuromuscular receptors, consistent with its lethal effects on humans. In contrast, C. geographus predation-evoked venom contains prey-specific toxins mostly inactive at human targets. Predation- and defence-evoked venoms originate from the distal and proximal regions of the venom duct, respectively, explaining how different stimuli can generate two distinct venoms. A specialized defensive envenomation strategy is widely evolved across worm, mollusk and fish-hunting cone snails. We propose that defensive toxins, originally evolved in ancestral worm-hunting cone snails to protect against cephalopod and fish predation, have been repurposed in predatory venoms to facilitate diversification to fish and mollusk diets.
Project description:Observations of the mollusc-hunting cone snail Conus textile during feeding reveal that prey are often stung multiple times in succession. While studies on the venom peptides injected by fish-hunting cone snails have become common, these approaches have not been widely applied to the analysis of the injected venoms from mollusc-hunters. We have successfully obtained multiple injected venom samples from C. textile individuals, allowing us to investigate venom compositional variation during prey capture. Our studies indicate that C. textile individuals alter the composition of prey-injected venom peptides during single feeding events. The qualitative results obtained by MALDI-ToF mass spectrometry are mirrored by quantitative changes in venom composition observed by reverse-phase high performance liquid chromatography. While it is unclear why mollusc-hunting cone snails inject prey multiple times prior to engulfment, our study establishes for the first time a link between this behavior and compositional changes of the venom during prey capture. Changes in venom composition during hunting may represent a multi-step strategy utilized by these venomous animals to slow and incapacitate prey prior to engulfment.
Project description:Prey shifts in carnivorous predators are events that can initiate the accelerated generation of new biodiversity. However, it is seldom possible to reconstruct how the change in prey preference occurred. Here we describe an evolutionary "smoking gun" that illuminates the transition from worm hunting to fish hunting among marine cone snails, resulting in the adaptive radiation of fish-hunting lineages comprising ?100 piscivorous Conus species. This smoking gun is ?-conotoxin TsVIA, a peptide from the venom of Conus tessulatus that delays inactivation of vertebrate voltage-gated sodium channels. C. tessulatus is a species in a worm-hunting clade, which is phylogenetically closely related to the fish-hunting cone snail specialists. The discovery of a ?-conotoxin that potently acts on vertebrate sodium channels in the venom of a worm-hunting cone snail suggests that a closely related ancestral toxin enabled the transition from worm hunting to fish hunting, as ?-conotoxins are highly conserved among fish hunters and critical to their mechanism of prey capture; this peptide, ?-conotoxin TsVIA, has striking sequence similarity to these ?-conotoxins from piscivorous cone snail venoms. Calcium-imaging studies on dissociated dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons revealed the peptide's putative molecular target (voltage-gated sodium channels) and mechanism of action (inhibition of channel inactivation). The results were confirmed by electrophysiology. This work demonstrates how elucidating the specific interactions between toxins and receptors from phylogenetically well-defined lineages can uncover molecular mechanisms that underlie significant evolutionary transitions.
Project description:Cone snails use separately evolved venoms for prey capture and defence. While most use a harpoon for prey capture, the Gastridium clade that includes the well-studied Conus geographus and Conus tulipa, have developed a net hunting strategy to catch fish. This unique feeding behaviour requires secretion of "nirvana cabal" peptides to dampen the escape response of targeted fish allowing for their capture directly by mouth. However, the active components of the nirvana cabal remain poorly defined. In this study, we evaluated the behavioural effects of likely nirvana cabal peptides on the teleost model, Danio rerio (zebrafish). Surprisingly, the conantokins (NMDA receptor antagonists) and/or conopressins (vasopressin receptor agonists and antagonists) found in C. geographus and C. tulipa venom failed to produce a nirvana cabal-like effect in zebrafish. In contrast, low concentrations of the non-competitive adrenoceptor antagonist ?-TIA found in C. tulipa venom (EC50?=?190?nM) dramatically reduced the escape response of zebrafish larvae when added directly to aquarium water. ?-TIA inhibited the zebrafish ?1-adrenoceptor, confirming ?-TIA has the potential to reverse the known stimulating effects of norepinephrine on fish behaviour. ?-TIA may act alone and not as part of a cabal, since it did not synergise with conopressins and/or conantokins. This study highlights the importance of using ecologically relevant animal behaviour models to decipher the complex neurobiology underlying the prey capture and defensive strategies of cone snails.
Project description:Cone snails are a diverse group of predatory marine invertebrates that deploy remarkably complex venoms to rapidly paralyse worm, mollusc or fish prey. ?-Conotoxins are neurotoxic peptides from cone snail venoms that inhibit Cav2.2 voltage-gated calcium channel, demonstrating potential for pain management via intrathecal (IT) administration. Here, we isolated and characterized two novel ?-conotoxins, MoVIA and MoVIB from Conus moncuri, the first to be identified in vermivorous (worm-hunting) cone snails. MoVIA and MoVIB potently inhibited human Cav2.2 in fluorimetric assays and rat Cav2.2 in patch clamp studies, and both potently displaced radiolabeled ?-conotoxin GVIA (125I-GVIA) from human SH-SY5Y cells and fish brain membranes (IC50 2-9?pM). Intriguingly, an arginine at position 13 in MoVIA and MoVIB replaced the functionally critical tyrosine found in piscivorous ?-conotoxins. To investigate its role, we synthesized MoVIB-[R13Y] and MVIIA-[Y13R]. Interestingly, MVIIA-[Y13R] completely lost Cav2.2 activity and MoVIB-[R13Y] had reduced activity, indicating that Arg at position 13 was preferred in these vermivorous ?-conotoxins whereas tyrosine 13 is preferred in piscivorous ?-conotoxins. MoVIB reversed pain behavior in a rat neuropathic pain model, confirming that vermivorous cone snails are a new source of analgesic ?-conotoxins. Given vermivorous cone snails are ancestral to piscivorous species, our findings support the repurposing of defensive venom peptides in the evolution of piscivorous Conidae.
Project description:Cone snail venoms are considered an untapped reservoir of extremely diverse peptides, named conopeptides, displaying a wide array of pharmacological activities. We report here for the first time, the presence of high molecular weight compounds that participate in the envenomation cocktail used by these marine snails. Using a combination of proteomic and transcriptomic approaches, we identified glycosyl hydrolase proteins, of the hyaluronidase type (Hyal), from the dissected and injectable venoms ("injectable venom" stands for the venom variety obtained by milking of the snails. This is in contrast to the "dissected venom", which was obtained from dissected snails by extraction of the venom glands) of a fish-hunting cone snail, Conus consors (Pionoconus clade). The major Hyal isoform, Conohyal-Cn1, is expressed as a mixture of numerous glycosylated proteins in the 50 kDa molecular mass range, as observed in 2D gel and mass spectrometry analyses. Further proteomic analysis and venom duct mRNA sequencing allowed full sequence determination. Additionally, unambiguous segment location of at least three glycosylation sites could be determined, with glycans corresponding to multiple hexose (Hex) and N-acetylhexosamine (HexNAc) moieties. With respect to other known Hyals, Conohyal-Cn1 clearly belongs to the hydrolase-type of Hyals, with strictly conserved consensus catalytic donor and positioning residues. Potent biological activity of the native Conohyals could be confirmed in degrading hyaluronic acid. A similar Hyal sequence was also found in the venom duct transcriptome of C. adamsonii (Textilia clade), implying a possible widespread recruitment of this enzyme family in fish-hunting cone snail venoms. These results provide the first detailed Hyal sequence characterized from a cone snail venom, and to a larger extent in the Mollusca phylum, thus extending our knowledge on this protein family and its evolutionary selection in marine snail venoms.
Project description:Conus ateralbus is a cone snail endemic to the west side of the island of Sal, in the Cabo Verde Archipelago off West Africa. We describe the isolation and characterization of the first bioactive peptide from the venom of this species. This 30AA venom peptide is named conotoxin AtVIA (?-conotoxin-like). An excitatory activity was manifested by the peptide on a majority of mouse lumbar dorsal root ganglion neurons. An analog of AtVIA with conservative changes on three amino acid residues at the C-terminal region was synthesized and this analog produced an identical effect on the mouse neurons. AtVIA has homology with ?-conotoxins from other worm-hunters, which include conserved sequence elements that are shared with ?-conotoxins from fish-hunting Conus. In contrast, there is no comparable sequence similarity with ?-conotoxins from the venoms of molluscivorous Conus species. A rationale for the potential presence of ?-conotoxins, that are potent in vertebrate systems in two different lineages of worm-hunting cone snails, is discussed.
Project description:Predatory marine cone snails (genus Conus) utilize complex venoms mainly composed of small peptide toxins that target voltage- and ligand-gated ion channels in their prey. Although the venoms of a number of cone snail species have been intensively profiled and functionally characterized, nothing is known about the initiation of venom expression at an early developmental stage. Here, we report on the expression of venom mRNA in embryos of Conus victoriae and the identification of novel α- and O-conotoxin sequences. Embryonic toxin mRNA expression is initiated well before differentiation of the venom gland, the organ of venom biosynthesis. Structural and functional studies revealed that the embryonic α-conotoxins exhibit the same basic three-dimensional structure as the most abundant adult toxin but significantly differ in their neurological targets. Based on these findings, we postulate that the venom repertoire of cone snails undergoes ontogenetic changes most likely reflecting differences in the biotic interactions of these animals with their prey, predators, or competitors. To our knowledge, this is the first study to show toxin mRNA transcripts in embryos, a finding that extends our understanding of the early onset of venom expression in animals and may suggest alternative functions of peptide toxins during development.