Erabutoxins a and b are neurotoxins isolated from venom of a sea snake Laticauda semifasciata (erabu-umihebi). Amino acid sequences of the toxins indicated that the toxins are members of a superfamily consisting of short and long neurotoxins and cytotoxins found in sea snakes and terrestrial snakes. The short neurotoxins to which erabutoxins belong act by blocking the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor on the post synaptic membrane in a manner similar to that of curare. X-ray crystallography and NMR analyses showed that the toxins have a three-finger structure, in which three fingers made of three loops emerging from a dense core make a gently concave surface of the protein. The sequence comparison and the location of essential residues on the protein suggested the mechanism of binding of the toxin to the acetylcholine receptor. Classification of snakes by means of sequence comparison and that based on different morphological features were inconsistent, which led the authors to propose a hypothesis "Evolution without divergence."(Communicated by Satoshi OMURA, M.J.A.).
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