Department of Biology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, 84112, USA; Department of Drug Design and Pharmacology, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark. Electronic address: [Email]
α6-containing (α6*) nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) are expressed throughout the periphery and the central nervous system and constitute putative therapeutic targets in pain, addiction and movement disorders. The α6β2* nAChRs are relatively well studied, in part due to the availability of target specific α-conotoxins (α-Ctxs). In contrast, all native α-Ctxs identified that potently block α6β4 nAChRs exhibit higher potencies for the closely related α6β2β3 and/or α3β4 subtypes. In this study, we have identified a novel peptide from Conus ventricosus with pronounced selectivity for the α6β4 nAChR. The peptide-encoding gene was cloned from genomic DNA and the predicted mature peptide, α-Ctx VnIB, was synthesized. The functional properties of VnIB were characterized at rat and human nAChRs expressed in Xenopus oocytes by two-electrode voltage clamp electrophysiology. VnIB potently inhibited ACh-evoked currents at rα6β4 and rα6/α3β4 nAChRs, displayed ∼20-fold and ∼250-fold lower potencies at rα3β4 and rα6/α3β2β3 receptors, respectively, and exhibited negligible effects at eight other nAChR subtypes. Interestingly, even higher degrees of selectivity were observed for hα6/α3β4 over hα6/α3β2β3 and hα3β4 receptors. Finally, VnIB displayed fast binding kinetics at rα6/α3β4 (on-rate t½ = 0.87 min-1, off-rate t½ = 2.7 min-1). The overall preference of VnIB for β4* over β2* nAChRs is similar to the selectivity profiles of other 4/6 α-Ctxs. However, in contrast to previously identified native α-Ctxs targeting α6* nAChRs, VnIB displays pronounced selectivity for α6β4 nAChRs over both α3β4 and α6β2β3 receptors. VnIB thus represents a novel molecular probe for elucidating the physiological role and therapeutic properties of α6β4* nAChRs.