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Med Hypotheses. 2004;62(3):367-74.

Bactericidal cationic peptides can also function as bacteriolysis-inducing agents mimicking beta-lactam antibiotics?; it is enigmatic why this concept is consistently disregarded.

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Institute for Dental Research, Faculty of Dental Medicine, Hebrew University - Hadassah, 91120 Jerusalem, Israel.


Although there is a general consensus that highly cationic peptides kill bacteria primarily by injuring their membranes, an additional hypothesis is proposed suggesting that a large variety of cationic peptides might also render bacteria non viable by activating their autolytic wall enzymes - muramidases (a "Trojan Horse" phenomenon), resulting in bacteriolysis. This group of cationic peptides includes: lysozyme, lactoferrin, neutrophil-derived permeability increasing peptides, defensins, elastase, cathepsin G, and secretory phopholipase A2. In this respect, cationic peptides mimic the bactericidal/bacteriolytic effects exerted by of beta-lactam antibiotics. Bacteriolysis results in a massive release of the pro-inflammatory cell-wall components, endotoxin (LPS), lipoteichoic acid (LTA) and peptidoglycan (PPG), which if not effectively controlled, can trigger the coagulation and complement cascades, the release from phagocytes of inflammatory cytokines, reactive oxygen and nitrogen species, and proteinases. Synergism (a "cross-talk") among such agonists released following bacteriolysis, is probably the main cause for septic shock and multiple organ failure. It is proposed that a use of bacteriolysis-inducing antibiotics should be avoided in bacteremic patients and particularly in those patients already suspected of developing shock symptoms as these might further enhance bacteriolysis and the release of LPS, LTA and PPG. Furthermore, in additonal to the supportive regimen exercised in intensive care settings, a use of non bacteriolysis-inducing antibiotics when combined with highly sulfated compounds (e.g. heparin, and other clinically certified polysufates) should be considered instead, as these might prevent the activation of the microbial own autolytic systems induced either by highly cationic peptides released by activated phagocytes or by the highly bacteriolytic beta-lactams. Polysulfates might also depress the deleterious effects of the complement cascade and the use of combinations among anti-oxidants ( N-acetyl cysteine), proteinase inhibitors and phospholipids might prove effective to depress the synergistic cytotoxic effects induced by inflammatory agonists. Also, a use of gamma globulin enriched either in anti-LPS or in anti-LTA activities might serve to prevent the binding of these toxins to receptors upon macrophage which upon activation generate inflammatory cytokines. Thus, a use of "cocktails" of anti-inflammatory agents might replace the unsuccessful use of single antagonists proven in scores of clinical trials of sepsis to by ineffective in prolonging the lives of patients. It is enigmatic why the concept, and the publications which support a role for cationic peptides also as potent inducers of bacteriolysis, an arch evil and a deleterious phenomenon which undoubtedly plays a pivotal role in the pathophysiology of post-infectious sequelae, has been consistently disregarded.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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