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Engineering a protein to prevent brain damage from toxic agents
Date:7/30/2014

Research at New York University is paving the way for a breakthrough that may prevent brain damage in civilians and military troops exposed to poisonous chemicalsparticularly those in pesticides and chemical weapons.

An article in the current issue of the journal ChemBioChem outlines the advancement in detoxifying organophosphates, which are compounds commonly used in pesticides and warfare agents. The patent-pending process was developed by NYU School of Engineering Associate Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering Jin Kim Montclare, along with Richard Bonneau, an associate professor in NYU's Department of Biology and a member of the computer science faculty at NYU's Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences.

Their work centers on proteins called phosphotriesterases, which have the unique capability of degrading chemicals in a class known as organophosphates, which are 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. The ability of phosphotriesterases to detoxify organophosphates has been previously documented; however, applications using the protein for this purpose have been limited by its short half-life and instability at high temperatures.

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.

"Organophosphates pose tremendous danger to people and wildlife, and sadly it's not unusual for humans to come into contact with these compounds, whether through exposure to pesticide or an intentional chemical warfare attack," explained Montclare. "We've known that phosphotr
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Contact: Kathleen Hamilton
kathleen.hamilton@nyu.edu
718-260-3792
New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering
Source:Eurekalert

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