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Biochemistry. 1997 May 20;36(20):6124-32.

Peptide hydrophobicity controls the activity and selectivity of magainin 2 amide in interaction with membranes.

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Forschungsinstitut für Molekulare Pharmakologie, Berlin, Germany.


The magainins are antibacterial peptides from the skin of Xenopus laevis. They show a broad range of activity against prokaryotic cells but lyse eukaryotic cells poorly. To elucidate the influence of peptide hydrophobicity on membrane activity and selectivity, we designed and synthesized analogs of magainin 2 amide with slightly varying hydrophobicities but retained hydrophobic moment, peptide charge, and angle subtended by the hydrophilic helix region. Circular dichroism investigations of the peptides revealed that all peptides investigated adopt an alpha-helical conformation when bound to phospholipid vesicles. Dye-releasing experiments from vesicles of phosphatidylglycerol (PG) showed that the membrane-permeabilizing activity of the analogs is not influenced by peptide hydrophobicity. In contrast, the permeability-enhancing activity on vesicles bearing high amounts of phosphatidylcholine (PC) increases drastically with enhanced peptide hydrophobicity, resulting in a reduced selectivity of more hydrophobic analogs for negatively charged membranes. Likewise, the peptide affinity to PC-rich membranes increases in the order of hydrophobicity. Correlation of peptide binding and membrane permeabilization of PC/PG (3:1) vesicles revealed that the observed differences in peptide activity on membranes of low negative surface charge are mainly caused by the different binding affinities. The antibacterial and hemolytic activity of the peptides increases with enhanced hydrophobicity. A strong correlation was found between the hemolytic effect and the bilayer-permeabilizing activity against PC-rich vesicles. Whereas the antibacterial specificity of the more hydrophobic analogs is retained for Escherichia coli, the specificity for Pseudomonas aeruginosa decreases with increasing hydrophobicity.

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