1 Group of Peptide Biology and Evolution, State Key Laboratory of Integrated Management of Pest Insects and Rodents, Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China2 University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
Three-finger toxins (TFTs) are well-recognized non-enzymatic venom proteins found in snakes. However, although TFTs exhibit accelerated evolution, the drivers of this evolution remain poorly understood. The structural complexes between long-chain α-neurotoxins, a subfamily of TFTs, and their nicotinic acetylcholine receptor targets have been determined in previous research, providing an opportunity to address such questions. In the current study, we observed several previously identified positively selected sites (PSSs) and the highly variable C-terminal loop of these toxins at the toxin/receptor interface. Of interest, analysis of the molecular adaptation of the toxin-recognition regions in the corresponding receptors provided no statistical evidence for positive selection. However, these regions accumulated abundant amino acid variations in the receptors from the prey of snakes, suggesting that accelerated substitution of TFTs could be a consequence of adaptation to these variations. To the best of our knowledge, this atypical evolution, initially discovered in scorpions, is reported in snake toxins for the first time and may be applicable for the evolution of toxins from other venomous animals.