Strategies for transformation of naturally-occurring amphibian antimicrobial peptides into therapeutically valuable anti-infective agents

J. Michael Conlon, Nadia Al-Ghaferi, Bency Abraham, Jérôme Leprince

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127 Citations (Scopus)


The emergence of strains of pathogenic microorganisms with resistance to commonly used antibiotics has necessitated a search for novel types of antimicrobial agents. Many frog species produce amphipathic α-helical peptides with broad spectrum antimicrobial activity in the skin but their therapeutic potential is limited by varying degrees of cytolytic activity towards eukaryotic cells. Methods for development of such peptides into anti-infective drugs are illustrated by the example of temporin-1DRa (HFLGTLVNLAK KIL.NH2). Studies with model α-helical peptides have shown that increase in cationicity promotes antimicrobial activity whereas increases in hydrophobicity, helicity and amphipathicity promote hemolytic activity and loss of selectivity for microorganisms. Analogs of temporin-1DRa in which each amino acid is replaced by l-lysine and d-lysine were synthesized and their cytolytic activities tested against a range of microorganisms and human erythrocytes. Small changes in structure produced marked changes in conformation, as determined by retention time on reversed-phase HPLC, and in biological activity. However, peptides containing the substitutions (Val7 → l-Lys), (Thr5 → d-Lys) and (Asn8 → d-Lys) retained the high solubility and potent, broad spectrum antimicrobial activity of the naturally occurring peptide but were appreciably (up to 10-fold) less hemolytic. In contrast, analogs in which Leu9 and Ile13 were replaced by the more hydrophobic cyclohexylglycine residue showed slightly increased antimicrobial potencies (up to 2-fold) but a 4-fold increase in hemolytic activity. The data suggest a strategy of selective increases in cationicity concomitant with decreases in helicity and hydrophobicity in the transformation of naturally-occurring antimicrobial peptides into non-toxic therapeutic agents.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)349-357
Number of pages9
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - Aug 2007


  • Amphipathic α-helix
  • Antimicrobial peptide
  • Cytolytic activity
  • Frog skin
  • Hydrophobicity
  • Temporin


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