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Biopolymers. 2000;55(1):4-30.

Amphipathic, alpha-helical antimicrobial peptides.

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Dipartimento di Biochimica, Biofisica e Chimica delle Macromolecole, Università degli Studi di Trieste, 34127, Trieste, Italy.


Gene-encoded antimicrobial peptides are an important component of host defense in animals ranging from insects to mammals. They do not target specific molecular receptors on the microbial surface, but rather assume amphipathic structures that allow them to interact directly with microbial membranes, which they can rapidly permeabilize. They are thus perceived to be one promising solution to the growing problem of microbial resistance to conventional antibiotics. A particularly abundant and widespread class of antimicrobial peptides are those with amphipathic, alpha-helical domains. Due to their relatively small size and synthetic accessibility, these peptides have been extensively studied and have generated a substantial amount of structure-activity relationship (SAR) data. In this review, alpha-helical antimicrobial peptides are considered from the point of view of six interrelated structural and physicochemical parameters that modulate their activity and specificity: sequence, size, structuring, charge, amphipathicity, and hydrophobicity. It begins by providing an overview of how these vary in peptides from different natural sources. It then analyzes how they relate to the currently accepted model for the mode of action of alpha-helical peptides, and discusses what the numerous SAR studies that have been carried out on these compounds and their analogues can tell us. A comparative analysis of the many alpha-helical, antimicrobial peptide sequences that are now available then provides further information on how these parameters are distributed and interrelated. Finally, the systematic variation of parameters in short model peptides is used to throw light on their role in antimicrobial potency and specificity. The review concludes with some considerations on the potentials and limitations for the development of alpha-helical, antimicrobial peptides as antiinfective agents.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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