Conotoxins: Potential Weapons from the Sea

Peter D. Anderson and Gyula Bokor

Cone snails are predatory marine animals that kill their prey with powerful venom. Conotoxins are a pharmacologically and chemically diverse group of toxins found in the venom. A number of species of cone snails, such as Conus geographus, are deadly to humans. Conotoxins affect numerous neurotransmitter receptors and ion channels in the body. The receptors impacted include nicotinic, adrenergic, NMDA, and serotonergic. Ion channels altered include sodium, potassium and calcium. The most lethal effect of conotoxins to humans is muscle paralysis of the diaphragm causing respiratory arrest. Numerous conotoxins are being used as research tools or being explored as therapeutic drugs. Concerns in the homeland security eld exist that certain conotoxins could be weaponized and used an aerosol. Conotoxins at risk of terrorist use include α-conotoxins, κ-conotoxins and δ-conotoxins. Most conotoxins are not a bioterrorism threat.

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