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Biochemistry. 2013 May 14;52(19):3254-63. doi: 10.1021/bi400087n. Epub 2013 Apr 29.

Lipid composition-dependent membrane fragmentation and pore-forming mechanisms of membrane disruption by pexiganan (MSI-78).

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Departments of Biophysics and Chemistry, University of Michigan , Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-1055, United States.


The potency and selectivity of many antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) are correlated with their ability to interact with and disrupt the bacterial cell membrane. In vitro experiments using model membranes have been used to determine the mechanism of membrane disruption of AMPs. Because the mechanism of action of an AMP depends on the ability of the model membrane to accurately mimic the cell membrane, it is important to understand the effect of membrane composition. Anionic lipids that are present in the outer membrane of prokaryotes but are less common in eukaryotic membranes are usually thought to be key for the bacterial selectivity of AMPs. We show by fluorescence measurements of peptide-induced membrane permeabilization that the presence of anionic lipids at high concentrations can actually inhibit membrane disruption by the AMP MSI-78 (pexiganan), a representative of a large class of highly cationic AMPs. Paramagnetic quenching studies suggest MSI-78 is in a surface-associated inactive mode in anionic sodium dodecyl sulfate micelles but is in a deeply buried and presumably more active mode in zwitterionic dodecylphosphocholine micelles. Furthermore, a switch in mechanism occurs with lipid composition. Membrane fragmentation with MSI-78 can be observed in mixed vesicles containing both anionic and zwitterionic lipids but not in vesicles composed of a single lipid of either type. These findings suggest membrane affinity and membrane permeabilization are not always correlated, and additional effects that may be more reflective of the actual cellular environment can be seen as the complexity of the model membranes is increased.

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