When investigating the origins of targeted toxins (a drug, therapy, or scientific tool directed to unique extracellular target), an appropriate place to begin is with the Nobel Prize-winning work of Paul Ehrlich and his concept of the “magic bullet.” Over 100 years later, the use of targeted toxins to perform molecular neurosurgery has become a vital practice that allows researchers to observe changes in organisms after eliminating a neuronal population. A prime example of this practice is the specific targeting of cholinergic neurons in the basal forebrain to mimic Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). The research tool designed for this purpose is 192-IgG-Saporin, an antibody conjugated to the ribosome-inactivating protein (RIP) Saporin. Researchers have used this targeted toxin for over 30 years. A 2019 publication by Verkhratsky reviews AD models and states this is the only lesion model that specifically targets cholinergic neurons.
In 1983, during a quest to find the optimal payload for a targeted toxin, Fiorenzo Stirpe and colleagues discovered Saporin, a plant protein isolated from the common soapwort plant Saponaria officinalis. Unlike ricin and abrin, Saporin does not have a binding chain and cannot enter a cell on its own.
Scientists have devised new ways to use Saporin to advance their research and drug development activities. Just a few examples include:
- A novel suicide gene therapy approach that uses a vector encoding a double-stranded DNA aptamer to deliver the gene encoding Saporin,
- Delivery of Saporin encapsulated in a nanotechnology system for development of cancer treatments,
- A deeper understanding of the difference between pain and itch and the relevant pathways, and
- Development of stable epilepsy animal model that is used for screen specific treatments that will lead to micro-methods to eliminate the disease.
This review will focus on Saporin as the payload delivered to cells. Targeted toxins (typically targeted by an antibody or peptide chemically linked or genetically fused) provide robust tools for neuroscience where ablation of specific neuronal populations is used to study behavior and function. Saporin is an ideal molecule because of its extreme resistance to high temperatures and denaturation, retention of catalytic activity after conjugation, and lack of a binding chain to allow entrance to the cytoplasm of cells on its own. As a result, it is one of the most studied RIPs used for its vigorousness, potency, safety, and ease of use in the laboratory. The information presented will shed light on the history of Saporin, current applications, and what the future holds for this protein in the neuroscience field.