Protein can prevent brain damage from toxic chemicals

New York, July 31 (IANS): Engineering a protein, research shows, may prevent brain damage in civilians and soldiers exposed to poisonous chemicals - particularly those in pesticides and chemical weapons.

A set of proteins called phosphotriesterases have the unique capability of detoxifying chemicals in a class known as organophosphates - found in everything from industrial pesticides to the sarin gas used in chemical warfare.

Organophosphates permanently bond to neurotransmitters in the brain, interfering with their ability to function and causing irreversible damage.

“Organophosphates pose tremendous danger to people and wildlife. We have known that some proteins had the power to detoxify these nerve agents but they were far too fragile to be used therapeutically,” said Jin Kim Montclare, NYU an associate professor of chemical and biological engineering at New York University.

Montclare and her colleagues devised a method of re-engineering phosphotriesterases by incorporating an artificial fluorinated amino acid and computational biology.

The result: a thermo-stable protein with a longer half-life that retains all the detoxification capabilities of the original version.

In addition to preventing nerve damage in the event of a gas attack or pesticide exposure, the proteins could be critical when stores of toxic nerve agents need to be decommissioned.

Often, chemical agent stockpiles are decommissioned through processes that involve treatment with heat and caustic chemical reagents for neutralisation.

“These proteins could accomplish that same task enzymatically, without the need for reactors and formation of dangerous byproducts,” researchers noted in a paper in the journal ChemBioChem.

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