A team of scientists in the U.S. have deciphered the highly unusual molecular structure of a natural sea compound, which is shedding new light on the function of mammalian nerve cells.
The team of collaborators from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California-San Diego (UC San Diego) and Creighton University have found that cyanobacteria, tiny photosynthetic sea organisms, produce a compound with a structure previously unseen in biomedicine.
The researchers say that the compound, which they have dubbed hoiamide A, offers a novel template for drug development.
"We have seen some of hoiamide A's features in other molecules, but separately. We believe this new template may be important because it's showing different mechanisms of action-different ways to interact with neurons, possibly with a good therapeutic effect for such diseases as epilepsy, hypoxia-ischemia and several neurodegenerative disorders," said Alban Pereira, a postdoctoral researcher in Scripps' CMBB.
The researchers have also revealed that pharmacological tests have shown that Hoiamide A interacts with the same important therapeutic target as analgesic, antiarrhythmic, antiepileptic, and neuroprotective drugs.
"Classically, what we know about the workings of the human nervous system has come largely from studies of different toxins on the function of model systems, such as in this case, the action of hoiamide A on nerve cells in petri dish cultures," said principal co-investigators William Gerwick.
"The toxins serve as 'molecular tools' for manipulating cells at an extremely microscopic scale. Ultimately, by understanding how neurons work at this detailed level, and having a set of tools such as hoiamide A, we can envision the development of new, more effective treatments for such diverse conditions as epilepsy, pain control and memory and cognition enhancement.
The natural world still has many valuable molecules left for us to discover and hopefully develop into new classes of medicines," he added.
A research article describing the study has been published in the journal Chemistry and Biology.