Friday, March 04, 2011

Smoking alternative

Snail toxin could fight smoking habit

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (UPI) -- A U.S. researcher says toxins produced by marine cone snails could help fight tobacco addiction by blocking the action of nicotine on the brain.

Chris Armishaw of Florida's Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies has been searching for drug compounds to block nicotine cravings, treat withdrawal symptoms, and reduce the negative side effects such as depression and mood swings often experienced with other anti-smoking drugs, reported Wednesday.

"Tobacco addiction is the leading preventable cause of death in the Western world," Armishaw said. "One particular class of molecules derived from cone snail venom is the alpha-conotoxins, which block the action of nicotine in the brain."

Marine cone snails are found in tropical reefs of the Indian and Pacific oceans and utilize a venom-laced harpoon that shoots out of their shells to stab and shock their prey of fish, worms and other marine snails.

Armishaw's research has found the venom could be used to develop new molecules, the alpha-conotoxins, to treat conditions such as pain, depression and drug addiction.

With subtle modifications to the alpha-conotoxins, he found, they could block specific functions in the nervous system that lead to tobacco addiction.

"An improved understanding of the molecular mechanisms of nicotine addiction in the brain is crucial in order to develop smoking cessation drugs, which in turn lower the burden on the health system," Armishaw said.

Copyright 2011 by United Press International

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