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Eur J Biochem. 2001 Nov;268(21):5589-600.

Amphipathic alpha helical antimicrobial peptides.

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1
Department of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Macromolecular Chemistry, University of Trieste, Italy.

Abstract

Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) that assume an amphipathic alpha helical structure are widespread in nature. Their activity depends on several parameters including the sequence, size, degree of structure formation, cationicity, hydrophobicity and amphipathicity. The analysis of numerous natural AMPs provided representative values for these parameters and led to a sequence template with which to generate potent artificial lead AMPs. Sequences were then varied in a rational manner, using both natural and nonproteinogenic amino acids, to probe the individual roles of each parameter in modulating biological activity. A high cationicity combined with a stabilized amphipathic alpha helical structure conferred enhanced cidal activity towards all the cell types considered, and was a requirement for Gram-positive bacteria and fungi. An elevated helicity also correlated with increased hemolytic activity. The structural requirements for activity against several Gram-negative bacteria were instead considerably less stringent, so that it persisted in peptides in which formation of a helical structure and/or amphipathicity were impeded. Either a reduced charge or a reduced hydrophobicity resulted in generally inactive peptides. These observations, combined with the kinetics of bacterial membrane permeabilization and time-killing are discussed in terms of currently accepted models of action for this type of peptide. The simple guidelines obtained in this study allowed the design of highly active shortened AMPs and may be generally useful in the development of this type of peptides as anti-infective agents.

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