Red‑on‑yellow queen: bio‑layer interferometry reveals functional diversity within micrurus venoms and toxin resistance in prey species

Snakes in the family Elapidae largely produce venoms rich in three-fnger toxins (3FTx) that bind to the α1 subunit of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs), impeding ion channel activity. These neurotoxins immobilize the prey by disrupting muscle contraction. Coral snakes of the genus Micrurus are specialist predators who produce many 3FTx, making them an interesting system for examining the coevolution of these toxins and their targets in prey animals. We used a bio-layer interferometry technique to measure the binding interaction between 15 Micrurus venoms and 12 taxon-specifc mimotopes designed to resemble the orthosteric binding region of the muscular nAChR subunit. We found that Micrurus venoms vary greatly in their potency on this assay and that this variation follows phylogenetic patterns rather than previously reported patterns of venom composition. The long-tailed Micrurus tend to have greater binding to nAChR orthosteric sites than their short-tailed relatives and we conclude this is the likely ancestral state. The repeated loss of this activity may be due to the evolution of 3FTx that bind to other regions of the nAChR. We also observed variations in the potency of the venoms depending on the taxon of the target mimotope. Rather than a pattern of prey-specifcity, we found that mimotopes modeled after snake nAChRs are less susceptible to Micrurus venoms and that this resistance is partly due to a characteristic tryptophan→serine mutation within the orthosteric site in all snake mimotopes. This resistance may be part of a Red Queen arms race between coral snakes and their prey.
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