Crotamine, a low molecular weight cationic polypeptide from the venom of the South American rattlesnake Crotalus durissus terrificus is a natural cell-penetrating peptide with functional versatility. The presence of nine lysine residues and three disulfide bonds renders crotamine highly compact, stable and positively charged. Topologically, crotamine adopts an ancient β-defensin fold that is found in diverse families of endogenous and venom polypeptides dedicated to host defense. Crotamine is unique among several classes of bioactive peptides because it possesses both cell penetrating and antimicrobial activities and selective biological action toward some cell types at a given cell cycle phase. Because it can rapidly and efficiently translocate into actively proliferating cells, crotamine is being investigated for labeling highly replicating cells and for use as a chemotherapeutic adjuvant. Peptides derived from crotamine, nucleolar targeting peptides (NrTPs), have been designed and are being studied. NrTPs retain some crotamine properties, such as efficient cellular uptake and preferential nuclear localization whereas they improve upon other properties. For example, NrTPs are smaller than crotamine, show higher preferential nucleolar localization, and better facilitate ZIP-code localization of therapeutic proteins.
Keywords: Crotamine, animal toxin, cell-penetrating peptide, β-defensin fold, homing domain, peptide engineering, nucleolar targeting peptide, therapeutic peptide, venom, cell cycle phase