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ACS Chem Biol. 2014 Jul 18;9(7):1613-21. doi: 10.1021/cb500203e. Epub 2014 Jun 2.

Hydrophobicity and helicity regulate the antifungal activity of 14-helical β-peptides.

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  • 1Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering and ‡Department of Chemistry, University of Wisconsin-Madison , Madison, Wisconsin 53706, United States.


Candida albicans is one of the most prevalent fungal pathogens, causing both mucosal candidiasis and invasive candidemia. Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs), part of the human innate immune system, have been shown to exhibit antifungal activity but have not been effective as pharmaceuticals because of low activity and selectivity in physiologically relevant environments. Nevertheless, studies on α-peptide AMPs have revealed key features that can be designed into more stable structures, such as the 14-helix of β-peptide-based oligomers. Here, we report on the ways in which two of those features, hydrophobicity and helicity, govern the activity and selectivity of 14-helical β-peptides against C. albicans and human red blood cells. Our results reveal both antifungal activity and hemolysis to correlate to hydrophobicity, with intermediate levels of hydrophobicity leading to high antifungal activity and high selectivity toward C. albicans. Helical structure-forming propensity further influenced this window of selective antifungal activity, with more stable helical structures eliciting specificity for C. albicans over a broader range of hydrophobicity. Our findings also reveal cooperativity between hydrophobicity and helicity in regulating antifungal activity and specificity. The results of this study provide critical insight into the ways in which hydrophobicity and helicity govern the activity and specificity of AMPs and identify criteria that may be useful for the design of potent and selective antifungal agents.

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