Synthetic molecule could fight nerve agents

Biochemist Tsafrir Mor has developed a method for synthetically producing human butyrylcholinesterase, a bioscavenging molecule that may be able to protect humans against nerve agents and pesticides, using transgenic tobacco plants.

Creating BChE using synthetic means might be an effective supplement or primary treatment for organophosphate nerve toxins to replace chemicals like atropine that relieve symptoms but do not protect against long-term neurological poisoning that leads to seizures, muscle weakness and permanent brain defects, Medical News Today reports.

Bioscavengers, like BChE and acetylcholinesterase are produced by the human body to bind with unwanted substances and to destroy or neutralize them. BChE is produced by the liver and is circulated in the blood stream to defend the body from potentially damaging chemicals.

While BChE can be stockpiled from blood, it would require an extremely large quantity of blood to protect several thousand troops from poisoning, Medical News Today reports. In a series of experiments, Mor was able to successfully synthesize human BChE using modified transgenic tobacco plants. Using two animal models, Mor demonstrated protection from organophosphate and pesticide poisoning.  

The study suggests that there is much more work needed before synthetic BChE can be applied as an antidote or for other clinical purposes, according to Medical News Today.

There is hope that synthetic BChE could not only be used to counteract the effects of organophosphates, but also in the fight against acetylcholine-linked diseases like Alzheimer’s disease along with the effects of drug overdoses and addiction.