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Biochemistry. 2004 Jul 20;43(28):9140-50.

Cyclization increases the antimicrobial activity and selectivity of arginine- and tryptophan-containing hexapeptides.

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Institute of Molecular Pharmacology, Robert-Roessle-Strasse 10, D-13125 Berlin, Germany.


Arginine- and tryptophan-rich motifs have been identified in antimicrobial peptides with various secondary structures. We synthesized a set of linear hexapeptides derived from the sequence AcRRWWRF-NH(2) by substitution of tryptophan (W) by tyrosine (Y) or naphthylalanine (Nal) and by replacement of arginine (R) by lysine (K) to investigate the role of cationic charge and aromatic residues in membrane activity and selectivity. A second set of corresponding head-to-tail cyclic analogues was prepared to analyze the role of conformational constraints. The biological activity of the linear peptides followed the order Nal- >> W- > Y-containing compounds and slightly decreased upon R-K substitution. A pronounced activity-improving and bacterial selectivity-enhancing effect was found upon cyclization of the R- and W-bearing parent peptide, whereas the activity-modifying effect of cyclization of Y- and Nal-containing peptides was low. The analysis of the driving forces of peptide interaction with model membranes showed that the activities correlated with the partition coefficients and the depths of peptide insertion into neutral and negatively charged lipid bilayers. Spectroscopic studies, RP-HPLC, and titration calorimetry implied that the combination of cationic and aromatic amino acid composition and conformational rigidity afforded a membrane-active, amphipathic structure with a highly charged face opposed by a cluster of aromatic side chains. However, threshold values of low and high hydrophobicity seemed to exist beyond which the activity-enhancing effect of cyclization was negligible. The results suggest that cyclization of small peptides of an appropriate amino acid composition may serve as a promising strategy in the design of antimicrobial peptides.

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