Conotoxins (conopeptides) are a diverse group of peptides isolated from the venom of marine cone snails. Conus peptides modulate pain by interacting with voltage-gated ion channels and G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). Opiate drugs targeting GPCRs have long been used, nonetheless, many undesirable side effects associated with opiates have been observed including addiction. Consequently, alternative avenues to pain management are a largely unmet need. It has been shown that various voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs) respond to GPCR modulation. Thus, regulation of VGCCs by GPCRs has become a valuable alternative in the management of pain. In this review, we focus on analgesic conotoxins that exert their effects via GPCR-mediated inhibition of ion channels involved in nociception and pain transmission. Specifically, α-conotoxin Vc1.1 activation of GABAB receptors and inhibition of voltage-gated calcium channels as a novel mechanism for reducing the excitability of dorsal root ganglion neurons is described. Vc1.1 and other α-conotoxins have been shown to be analgesic in different animal models of chronic pain. This review will outline the functional effects of conopeptide modulation of GPCRs and how their signalling is translated to downstream components of the pain pathways. Where available we present the proposed signalling mechanisms that couples metabotropic receptor activation to their downstream effectors to produce analgesia.
This article is part of the Special Issue entitled ‘Venom-derived Peptides as Pharmacological Tools.’