OCT 09, 2021 6:54 AM PDT

The Anti-Cancer, Copper-Binding Compounds Found in Fish

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

In the world's waterways, fish are confronted with endless challenges. For example, they have to defend themselves from predators, evade capture, compete with others for food, deal with the impact of pollution, and contend with a world of microbial life. Researcher and professor Myriam Cotten of The College of William & Mary has been studying fish immunity, and the small molecules that fish produce; in particular, compounds called piscidins that are generated by hybrid striped bass.

"There is a universal theme that organisms produce protective compounds that are co-evolving with the pathogens and the threats they are exposed to," said Cotten. Piscidins are thought to be a kind of host defense peptide (HDP).

Researcher and associate professor Alfredo Angeles-Boza of the University of Connecticut told Cotten that piscidins could bind to copper. Copper is known for its antimicrobial properties, producing the term 'contact killing,' and its use has to be carefully regulated in organisms because it can be toxic.

In this work, published in Scientific Reports, the scientists began engineering peptides that could link up with copper in vitro, and identified two that had efficacy against cancer cells.

HDPs already work against pathogens by disrupting cell membranes. "The peptides can form a helical structure, much like DNA also exists in a helical form. What happens with the binding is that you modify the structure," Cotten explained. "Now you have a disrupted helix, with a [flattened] structure as the head of the peptide and the rest of it actually remains a wrapped helix."

That disrupted helix happens to also be very good at attacking parts of the membranes of bacteria and cancer cells.

When HDPs are given an enhanced ability to bind to copper, they can destroy the cell membranes in a second way, with the copper, which can break bonds between molecules in the cell membranes.

Image credit: Pixabay

"When you bind the copper to the head of the peptide, you actually allow the head to get into the membrane," she said. "Instead of lying flat on the membrane it now gets deep inside the membrane." The cell membrane has to maintain its integrity, or the life of the cell is threatened.

These peptides aren't quite ready for clinical use because they don't yet leave healthy cells unharmed. But the researchers are hopeful that they can modify them so they can be applied in a targeted, direct way. "For instance, you have to use nanoscience to find a way to surround the peptide with a coating that will bring it to say, cancer cells over healthy cells," suggested Cotten.

Sources: The College of William & Mary, Scientific Reports

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
OCT 18, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
A Decade After Gene Therapy, SCID Patients Are Doing Well
OCT 18, 2021
A Decade After Gene Therapy, SCID Patients Are Doing Well
For decades, scientists have been trying to find ways to cure disorders that can be traced back to an error in one gene. ...
OCT 25, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Spaceflight Seems to Raise Levels of Circulating Cell-Free Mitochondrial DNA
OCT 25, 2021
Spaceflight Seems to Raise Levels of Circulating Cell-Free Mitochondrial DNA
Spaceflight is being marketed as a tourist opportunity for extremely wealthy people, and lengthy space missions that cou ...
NOV 01, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
How SARS-CoV-2 Evades Antiviral Defenses
NOV 01, 2021
How SARS-CoV-2 Evades Antiviral Defenses
Researchers have learned a lot about the SARS-CoV-2 virus since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. We know that he viru ...
NOV 23, 2021
Microbiology
The Malaria Parasite Gives Its Mosquito Host Advantages
NOV 23, 2021
The Malaria Parasite Gives Its Mosquito Host Advantages
When the parasite Plasmodium falciparium is transmitted from mosquitoes to humans, it causes malaria. So what does it do ...
NOV 23, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
Female Condors Reproduced Asexually Even Though Males Were Available
NOV 23, 2021
Female Condors Reproduced Asexually Even Though Males Were Available
Some animals can produce offspring from an unfertilized egg in an asexual reproduction process known as parthogenesis. W ...
NOV 26, 2021
Coronavirus
Heavily Mutated COVID-19 B.1.1.529 Variant Emerges, WHO Names It Omicron
NOV 26, 2021
Heavily Mutated COVID-19 B.1.1.529 Variant Emerges, WHO Names It Omicron
On Thursday, November 2021, South African health officials announced that they had identified a new variant of the pande ...
Loading Comments...