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J Am Chem Soc. 2007 Jan 17;129(2):417-28.

Interplay among folding, sequence, and lipophilicity in the antibacterial and hemolytic activities of alpha/beta-peptides.

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Departments of Chemistry and Pharmacology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA.


Host-defense peptides inhibit bacterial growth but manifest relatively little toxicity toward eukaryotic cells. Many host-defense peptides adopt alpha-helical conformations in which cationic side chains and lipophilic side chains are segregated to distinct regions of the molecular surface ("globally amphiphilic helices"). Several efforts have been made to develop unnatural oligomers that mimic the selective antibacterial activity of host-defense peptides; these efforts have focused on the creation of molecules that are globally amphiphilic in the preferred conformation. One such endeavor, from our laboratories, focused on helix-forming alpha/beta-peptides, i.e., oligomers containing a 1:1 pattern of alpha- and beta-amino acid residues in the backbone [Schmitt, M. A.; Weisblum, B.; Gellman, S. H. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2004, 126, 6848-6849]. We found, unexpectedly, that the most favorable biological activity profile was displayed by a "scrambled" sequence, which was designed not to be able to form a globally amphiphilic helix. Here we report new data, involving an expanded set of alpha/beta-peptides, from experiments designed to elucidate the origins of this surprising result. In addition, we evaluate the susceptibility of alpha/beta-peptides to proteolytic degradation. Our results support the hypothesis that the ability to adopt a globally amphiphilic helical conformation is not a prerequisite for selective antibacterial activity. This conclusion represents a significant advance in our understanding of the relationship among molecular composition, conformation, and biological activity. Our results should therefore influence the design of other unnatural oligomers intended to function as antibacterial agents.

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