A plant-derived cocaine hydrolase prevents cocaine overdose lethality and attenuates cocaine-induced drug seeking behavior

Katherine E. Larrimore, Latha Kannan, R. Player Kendle, Tameem Jamal, Matthew Barcus, Kathryn Stefanko, Jacquelyn Kilbourne, Stephen Brimijoin, Chang Guo Zhan, Janet Neisewander, Tsafrir S. Mor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Cocaine use disorders include short-term and acute pathologies (e.g. overdose) and long-term and chronic disorders (e.g. intractable addiction and post-abstinence relapse). There is currently no available treatment that can effectively reduce morbidity and mortality associated with cocaine overdose or that can effectively prevent relapse in recovering addicts. One recently developed approach to treat these problems is the use of enzymes that rapidly break down the active cocaine molecule into inactive metabolites. In particular, rational design and site-directed mutagenesis transformed human serum recombinant butyrylcholinesterase (BChE) into a highly efficient cocaine hydrolase with drastically improved catalytic efficiency toward (−)-cocaine. A current drawback preventing the clinical application of this promising enzyme-based therapy is the lack of a cost-effective production strategy that is also flexible enough to rapidly scale-up in response to continuous improvements in enzyme design. Plant-based expression systems provide a unique solution as this platform is designed for fast scalability, low cost and the advantage of performing eukaryotic protein modifications such as glycosylation. A Plant-derived form of the Cocaine Super Hydrolase (A199S/F227A/S287G/A328W/Y332G) we designate PCocSH protects mice from cocaine overdose, counters the lethal effects of acute cocaine overdose, and prevents reinstatement of extinguished drug-seeking behavior in mice that underwent place conditioning with cocaine. These results demonstrate that the novel PCocSH enzyme may well serve as an effective therapeutic for cocaine use disorders in a clinical setting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number109961
JournalProgress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry
StatePublished - Aug 30 2020


  • Butyrylcholinesterase
  • Cocaine addiction
  • Cocaine hydrolase
  • Cocaine overdose
  • Plant biotechnology
  • Plant-derived biologics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Biological Psychiatry


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