Using Nature's strategies in the development of new drugs

February 10, 2021

Dimerization (Note: combination of two identical or different molecules) of the human neuropeptides oxytocin and vasopressin can produce new types of bioactive molecules. In a recent study, an international research team led by MedUni Vienna and the University of Vienna demonstrated that dimerized and therefore significantly larger versions of oxytocin and vasopressin are still able to activate their receptors. Such new constructs provide several opportunities to optimize the efficacy of these neuropeptides for therapeutic application. The researchers were inspired for this approach from naturally occurring dimers. The results have been published in the journal "Chemical Science".

Oxytocin/vasopressin receptors are typical examples of so-called G protein-coupled receptors - the most successful drug target class. The oxytocin and vasopressin receptors are targeted, for example, during childbirth to encourage contractions but are also being investigated for therapeutic applications in cardiovascular disease, cancer, and developmental disorders such as autism.

Inspired by locusts

MedUni Vienna researchers (led by Christian Gruber from the Institute of Pharmacology), researchers from the University of Vienna (led by Markus Muttenthaler from the Institute of Biological Chemistry of the Faculty of Chemistry) and research partners from Australia and Spain have shown that it is possible to dimerize the human neuropeptides oxytocin and vasopressin without forfeiting too much of their efficacy. The researchers were inspired by a naturally occurring locust neuropeptide, which had the form of a dimer of two vasopressin-like molecules. "By making structural changes to the composition and orientation of the dimers, we managed to modify their pharmacological activity to achieve selective inhibition or activation of the human vasopressin V1a receptor," explains Christian Gruber from MedUni Vienna. Markus Muttenthaler from the University of Vienna adds: "Dimerization is a strategy that is often observed in Nature to optimize stability or mode of action. A good example of this is insulin, which is also a dimer of two different peptides."

600-million-year-old oxytocin-vasopressin signalling system

The researchers use a unique strategy for the discovery of new oxytocin and vasopressin molecules with different pharmacological properties, exploiting the advantages of the evolutionary similarities of the oxytocin-vasopressin signalling system that has been in existence for around 600 million years and is widely distributed in the animal kingdom. These new pharmacological probes provide new insights into receptor function and could also represent new therapeutic leads for several disorders. "Our concept is as innovative as it is fascinating: you take an insect neuropeptide, study its structure and replicate this with minor chemical changes to obtain therapeutic leads for human diseases," explain Gruber and Muttenthaler. "It is equally important to make these new molecules available as research 'tools'. Only by developing receptor-subtype-selective molecules, is it possible to investigate the physiological relevance of these signalling systems," add Gruber and Muttenthaler.

Functions of the oxytocin-vasopressin signalling system studied

The researchers' aim to explain the pharmacological and physiological relevance of this signalling system. "We have studied the function of this signalling system in ants and found that the oxytocin-vasopressin hormone system regulates foraging, physical activity and metabolism." The researchers therefore assume that oxytocin is not merely a 'love hormone' but potentially also acts as an appetite suppressant - an application worth investigating.
-end-


Medical University of Vienna

Related Chemistry Articles from Brightsurf:

Searching for the chemistry of life
In the search for the chemical origins of life, researchers have found a possible alternative path for the emergence of the characteristic DNA pattern: According to the experiments, the characteristic DNA base pairs can form by dry heating, without water or other solvents.

Sustainable chemistry at the quantum level
University of Pittsburgh Associate Professor John A. Keith is using new quantum chemistry computing procedures to categorize hypothetical electrocatalysts that are ''too slow'' or ''too expensive'', far more thoroughly and quickly than was considered possible a few years ago.

Can ionic liquids transform chemistry?
Table salt is a commonplace ingredient in the kitchen, but a different kind of salt is at the forefront of chemistry innovation.

Principles for a green chemistry future
A team led by researchers from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies recently authored a paper featured in Science that outlines how green chemistry is essential for a sustainable future.

Sugar changes the chemistry of your brain
The idea of food addiction is a very controversial topic among scientists.

Reflecting on the year in chemistry
A lot can happen in a year, especially when it comes to science.

Better chemistry through tiny antennae
A research team at The University of Tokyo has developed a new method for actively controlling the breaking of chemical bonds by shining infrared lasers on tiny antennae.

Chemistry in motion
For the first time, researchers have managed to view previously inaccessible details of certain chemical processes.

Researchers enrich silver chemistry
Researchers from Russia and Saudi Arabia have proposed an efficient method for obtaining fundamental data necessary for understanding chemical and physical processes involving substances in the gaseous state.

The chemistry behind kibble (video)
Have you ever thought about how strange it is that dogs eat these dry, weird-smelling bits of food for their entire lives and never get sick of them?

Read More: Chemistry News and Chemistry Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.