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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2007 Jun;1768(6):1488-97. Epub 2007 Jan 26.

Inhibition of malaria parasite blood stages by tyrocidines, membrane-active cyclic peptide antibiotics from Bacillus brevis.

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Department of Biochemistry, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa.


Tyrothricin, a complex mixture of antibiotic peptides from Bacillus brevis, was reported in 1944 to have antimalarial activity rivalling that of quinine in chickens infected with Plasmodium gallinaceum. We have isolated the major components of tyrothricin, cyclic decapeptides collectively known as the tyrocidines, and tested them against the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum using standard in vitro assays. Although the tyrocidines differ from each other by conservative amino acid substitutions in only three positions, their observed 50% parasite inhibitory concentrations (IC(50)) spanned three orders of magnitude (0.58 to 360 nM). Activity correlated strictly with increased apparent hydrophobicity and reduced total side-chain surface area and the presence of ornithine and phenylalanine in key positions. In contrast, mammalian cell toxicity and haemolytic activities of the respective peptides were considerably less variable (2.6 to 28 microM). Gramicidin S, a structurally analogous antimicrobial peptide, was less active (IC(50)=1.3 microM) and selective than the tyrocidines. It exerted its parasite inhibition by rapid and selective lysis of infected erythrocytes as judged by fluorescence and light microscopy. The tyrocidines, however, did not cause an overt lysis of infected erythrocytes, but an inhibition of parasite development and life-cycle progression.

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