Conotoxins are the peptidic components of the venoms of marine cone snails (genus Conus
). They are remarkably diverse in terms of structure and function. Unique potency and selectivity profiles for a range of neuronal targets have made several conotoxins valuable as research tools, drug leads and even therapeutics, and has resulted in a concerted and increasing drive to identify and characterise new conotoxins. Conotoxins are translated from mRNA as peptide precursors, and cDNA sequencing is now the primary method for identification of new conotoxin sequences. As a result, gene superfamily, a classification based on precursor signal peptide identity, has become the most convenient method of conotoxin classification. Here we review each of the described conotoxin gene superfamilies, with a focus on the structural and functional diversity present in each. This review is intended to serve as a practical guide to conotoxin superfamilies and to facilitate interpretation of the increasing number of conotoxin precursor sequences being identified by targeted-cDNA sequencing and more recently high-throughput transcriptome sequencing.
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