Novel Kunitz-like peptides discovered in the zoanthid Palythoa caribaeorum through transcriptome sequencing


Palythoa caribaeorum (class Anthozoa) is a zoanthid that together jellyfishes, hydra, and sea anemones, which are venomous and predatory, belongs to the Phyllum Cnidaria. The distinguished feature in these marine animals is the cnidocytes in the body tissues, responsible for toxin production and injection that are used majorly for prey capture and defense. With exception for other anthozoans, the toxin cocktails of zoanthids have been scarcely studied and are poorly known. Here, based on the analysis of P. caribaeorum transcriptome, numerous predicted venom-featured polypeptides were identified, including allergens, neurotoxins, membrane-active and Kunitz-like peptides (PcKuz). The three predicted PcKuz isotoxins (1 to 3) were selected for functional studies. Through computational processing comprising structural phylogenetic analysis, molecular docking, and dynamics simulation, PcKuz3 was shown to be a potential voltage gated potassium-channel inhibitor. PcKuz3 fitted well as new functional Kunitz-type toxins with strong anti-locomotor activity as in vivo assessed in zebrafish larvae, with weak inhibitory effect toward proteases, as evaluated in vitro. Notably, PcKuz3 can suppress, at low concentration, the 6-OHDA-induced neurotoxicity on the locomotive behavior of zebrafish, which indicated PcKuz3 may have a neuroprotective effect. Taken together, PcKuz3 figures as a novel neurotoxin structure which differs from known homologous peptides expressed in sea anemone. Moreover, the novel PcKuz3 provides an insightful hint for bio-drug development for prospective neurodegenerative disease treatment.