Toxins from the venom of the African green mamba, Dendroaspis angusticeps, fulfill a major need for selective ligands for some of the five genetically defined subtypes of muscarinic acetylcholine receptors (m1-m5). Two toxins have been found that are highly selective antagonists for m1 and m4 receptors (m1-toxin and m4-toxin, respectively). Two other toxins (MT1 and MT2) bind with high affinity to both m1 and m4 receptors, and are agonists. Components of the venom also modify the binding of radiolabeled antagonists to m2 receptors, but an m2- selective toxin has not yet been isolated. m1-Toxin can bind to m1 receptors at the same time as typical competitive antagonists, suggesting that this toxin binds to the N-terminal and outer loops of ml receptor molecules, rather than within the receptor pocket where typical agonists and antagonists bind. The binding of toxins to the outer parts of receptor molecules probably accounts for their much higher specificity for individual receptor subtypes than is seen with smaller ligands. Toxins are useful for identifying, counting, localizing, activating and blocking m1 and m4 receptors with high specificity.
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