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Open Access Review

The Terebridae and teretoxins: Combining phylogeny and anatomy for concerted discovery of bioactive compounds

Nicolas Puillandre1 and Mandë Holford2*

Author Affiliations

1 UMR 7138, Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Departement Systematique et Evolution, CP26, 57 rue Cuvier, 75231 Paris Cedex 05, France

2 The City University of New York-York College and The Graduate Center, The American Museum of Natural History NYC, USA

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BMC Chemical Biology 2010, 10:7  doi:10.1186/1472-6769-10-7

Published: 17 September 2010

Abstract

The Conoidea superfamily, comprised of cone snails, terebrids, and turrids, is an exceptionally promising group for the discovery of natural peptide toxins. The potential of conoidean toxins has been realized with the distribution of the first Conus (cone snail) drug, Prialt (ziconotide), an analgesic used to alleviate chronic pain in HIV and cancer patients. Cone snail toxins (conotoxins) are highly variable, a consequence of a high mutation rate associated to duplication events and positive selection. As Conus and terebrids diverged in the early Paleocene, the toxins from terebrids (teretoxins) may demonstrate highly divergent and unique functionalities. Recent analyses of the Terebridae, a largely distributed family with more than 300 described species, indicate they have evolutionary and pharmacological potential. Based on a three gene (COI, 12S and 16S) molecular phylogeny, including ~50 species from the West-Pacific, five main terebrid lineages were discriminated: two of these lineages independently lost their venom apparatus, and one venomous lineage was previously unknown. Knowing the phylogenetic relationships within the Terebridae aids in effectively targeting divergent lineages with novel peptide toxins. Preliminary results indicate that teretoxins are similar in structure and composition to conotoxins, suggesting teretoxins are an attractive line of research to discover and develop new therapeutics that target ion channels and receptors. Using conotoxins as a guideline, and innovative natural products discovery strategies, such as the Concerted Discovery Strategy, the potential of the Terebridae and their toxins are explored as a pioneering pharmacological resource.