Scanning mutagenesis of α-conotoxin Vc1.1 reveals residues crucial for activity at the α9α10 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor
Vc1.1 is a disulfide-rich peptide inhibitor of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors that has stimulated considerable interest in these receptors as potential therapeutic targets for the treatment of neuropathic pain. Here we present an extensive series of mutational studies in which all residues except the conserved cysteines were mutated separately to Ala, Asp, or Lys. The effect on acetylcholine (ACh)-evoked membrane currents at the α9α10 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR), which has been implicated as a target in the alleviation of neuropathic pain, was then observed. The analogs were characterized by NMR spectroscopy to determine the effects of mutations on structure. The structural fold was found to be preserved in all peptides except where Pro was substituted. Electrophysiological studies showed that the key residues for functional activity are Asp5-Arg7 and Asp11-Ile15, because changes at these positions resulted in the loss of activity at the α9α10 nAChR. Interestingly, the S4K and N9A analogs were more potent than Vc1.1 itself. A second generation of mutants was synthesized, namely N9G, N9I, N9L, S4R, and S4K+N9A, all of which were more potent than Vc1.1 at both the rat α9α10 and the human α9/rat α10 hybrid receptor, providing a mechanistic insight into the key residues involved in eliciting the biological function of Vc1.1. The most potent analogs were also tested at the α3β2, α3β4, and α7 nAChR subtypes to determine their selectivity. All mutants tested were most selective for the α9α10 nAChR. These findings provide valuable insight into the interaction of Vc1.1 with the α9α10 nAChR subtype and will help in the further development of analogs of Vc1.1 as analgesic drugs.