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1.  Selective Membrane Disruption: Mode of Action of C16G2, a Specifically Targeted Antimicrobial Peptide ▿ 
The specifically targeted antimicrobial peptide (STAMP) C16G2 was developed to target the cariogenic oral pathogen Streptococcus mutans. Because the design of this peptide was novel, we sought to better understand the mechanism through which it functioned. Compared to antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) with wide spectra of activity, the STAMP C16G2 has demonstrated specificity for S. mutans in a mixed-culture environment, resulting in the complete killing of S. mutans while having minimal effect on the other streptococci. In the current study, we sought to further confirm the selectivity of C16G2 and also compare its membrane activity to that of melittin B, a classical toxic AMP, in order to determine the STAMP's mechanism of cell killing. Disruption of S. mutans cell membranes by C16G2 was demonstrated by increased SYTOX green uptake and ATP efflux from the cells similar to those of melittin B. Treatment with C16G2 also resulted in a loss of membrane potential as measured by DiSC(3)5 fluorescence. In comparison, the individual moieties of C16G2 demonstrated no specificity and limited antimicrobial activity compared to those of the STAMP C16G2. The data suggest that C16G2 has a mechanism of action similar to that of traditional AMPs and kills S. mutans through disruption of the cell membrane, allowing small molecules to leak out of the cell, which is followed by a loss of membrane potential and cell death. Interestingly, this membrane activity is rapid and potent against S. mutans, but not other noncariogenic oral streptococci.
PMCID: PMC3122425  PMID: 21518845
2.  Targeted Killing of Streptococcus mutans by a Pheromone-Guided “Smart” Antimicrobial Peptide 
Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy  2006;50(11):3651-3657.
Within the repertoire of antibiotics available to a prescribing clinician, the majority affect a broad range of microorganisms, including the normal flora. The ecological disruption resulting from antibiotic treatment frequently results in secondary infections or other negative clinical consequences. To address this problem, our laboratory has recently developed a new class of pathogen-selective molecules, called specifically (or selectively) targeted antimicrobial peptides (STAMPs), based on the fusion of a species-specific targeting peptide domain with a wide-spectrum antimicrobial peptide domain. In the current study, we focused on achieving targeted killing of Streptococcus mutans, a cavity-causing bacterium that resides in a multispecies microbial community (dental plaque). In particular, we explored the possibility of utilizing a pheromone produced by S. mutans, namely, the competence stimulating peptide (CSP), as a STAMP targeting domain to mediate S. mutans-specific delivery of an antimicrobial peptide domain. We discovered that STAMPs constructed with peptides derived from CSP were potent against S. mutans grown in liquid or biofilm states but did not affect other oral streptococci tested. Further studies showed that an 8-amino-acid region within the CSP sequence is sufficient for targeted delivery of the antimicrobial peptide domain to S. mutans. The STAMPs presented here are capable of eliminating S. mutans from multispecies biofilms without affecting closely related noncariogenic oral streptococci, indicating the potential of these molecules to be developed into “probiotic” antibiotics which could selectively eliminate pathogens while preserving the protective benefits of a healthy normal flora.
PMCID: PMC1635210  PMID: 17060534
3.  Targeted Antimicrobial Therapy Against Streptococcus mutans Establishes Protective Non-cariogenic Oral Biofilms and Reduces Subsequent Infection 
Dental biofilms are complex communities composed largely of harmless bacteria. Certain pathogenic species including Streptococcus mutans (S. mutans) can become predominant when host factors such as dietary sucrose intake imbalance the biofilm ecology. Current approaches to control S. mutans infection are not pathogen-specific and eliminate the entire oral community along with any protective benefits provided. Here, we tested the hypothesis that removal of S. mutans from the oral community through targeted antimicrobial therapy achieves protection against subsequent S. mutans colonization.
Controlled amounts of S. mutans were mixed with S. mutans-free saliva, grown into biofilms and visualized by antibody staining and cfu quantization. Two specifically-targeted antimicrobial peptides (STAMPs) against S. mutans were tested for their ability to reduce S. mutans biofilm incorporation upon treatment of the inocula. The resulting biofilms were also evaluated for their ability to resist subsequent exogenous S. mutans colonization.
S. mutans colonization was considerably reduced (9 ± 0.4 fold reduction, P=0.01) when the surface was preoccupied with saliva-derived biofilms. Furthermore, treatment with S. mutans-specific STAMPs yielded S. mutans-deficient biofilms with significant protection against further S. mutans colonization (5 minutes treatment: 38 ± 13 fold reduction P=0.01; 16 hours treatment: 96 ± 28 fold reduction P=0.07).
S. mutans infection is reduced by the presence of existing biofilms. Thus maintaining a healthy or “normal” biofilm through targeted antimicrobial therapy (such as the STAMPs) could represent an effective strategy for the treatment and prevention of S. mutans colonization in the oral cavity and caries progression.
PMCID: PMC3733586  PMID: 20737932
targeted antimicrobial therapy; antimicrobial peptide; biofilm; Streptococcus mutans; protective colonization; caries
4.  A Novel Target-Specific, Salt-Resistant Antimicrobial Peptide against the Cariogenic Pathogen Streptococcus mutans▿† 
Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy  2011;55(11):5205-5213.
In this study, we constructed and evaluated a target-specific, salt-resistant antimicrobial peptide (AMP) that selectively targeted Streptococcus mutans, a leading cariogenic pathogen. The rationale for creating such a peptide was based on the addition of a targeting domain of S. mutans ComC signaling peptide pheromone (CSP) to a killing domain consisting of a portion of the marine-derived, broad-spectrum AMP pleurocidin to generate a target-specific AMP. Here, we report the results of our assessment of such fusion peptides against S. mutans and two closely related species. The results showed that nearly 95% of S. mutans cells lost viability following exposure to fusion peptide IMB-2 (5.65 μM) for 15 min. In contrast, only 20% of S. sanguinis or S. gordonii cells were killed following the same exposure. Similar results were also observed in dual-species mixed cultures of S. mutans with S. sanguinis or S. gordonii. The peptide-guided killing was further confirmed in S. mutans biofilms and was shown to be dose dependent. An S. mutans mutant defective in the CSP receptor retained 60% survival following exposure to IMB-2, suggesting that the targeted peptide predominantly bound to the CSP receptor to mediate killing in the wild-type strain. Our work confirmed that IMB-2 retained its activity in the presence of physiological or higher salt concentrations. In particular, the fusion peptide showed a synergistic killing effect on S. mutans with a preventive dose of NaF. In addition, IMB-2 was relatively stable in the presence of saliva containing 1 mM EDTA and did not cause any hemolysis. We also found that replacement of serine-14 by histidine improved its activity at lower pH. Because of its effectiveness, salt resistance, and minimal toxicity to host cells, this novel target-specific peptide shows promise for future development as an anticaries agent.
PMCID: PMC3194993  PMID: 21844316
5.  Clinical Efficacy of a Specifically Targeted Antimicrobial Peptide Mouth Rinse: Targeted Elimination of Streptococcus mutans and Prevention of Demineralization 
Caries Research  2011;45(5):415-428.
Streptococcus mutans, the major etiological agent of dental caries, has a measurable impact on domestic and global health care costs. Though persistent in the oral cavity despite conventional oral hygiene, S. mutans can be excluded from intact oral biofilms through competitive exclusion by other microorganisms. This suggests that therapies capable of selectively eliminating S. mutans while limiting the damage to the normal oral flora might be effective long-term interventions to fight cariogenesis. To meet this challenge, we designed C16G2, a novel synthetic specifically targeted antimicrobial peptide with specificity for S. mutans. C16G2 consists of a S. mutans-selective ‘targeting region’ comprised of a fragment from S. mutans competence stimulation peptide (CSP) conjoined to a ‘killing region’ consisting of a broad-spectrum antimicrobial peptide (G2). In vitro studies have indicated that C16G2 has robust efficacy and selectivity for S. mutans, and not other oral bacteria, and affects targeted bacteria within seconds of contact.
In the present study, we evaluated C16G2 for clinical utility in vitro, followed by a pilot efficacy study to examine the impact of a 0.04% (w/v) C16G2 rinse in an intra-oral remineralization/demineralization model.
Results and Conclusions
C16G2 rinse usage was associated with reductions in plaque and salivary S. mutans, lactic acid production, and enamel demineralization. The impact on total plaque bacteria was minimal. These results suggest that C16G2 is effective against S. mutans in vivo and should be evaluated further in the clinic.
PMCID: PMC3169368  PMID: 21860239
Antimicrobial; Antimicrobial peptide; Caries; Demineralization; Dental plaque; Lactic acid; Mouth rinse; Oral therapeutic; Selective antibiotic; Selective therapeutic; Specifically targeted antimicrobial peptide; Streptococcus mutans; Targeted antimicrobial
6.  Design and activity of a ‘dual-targeted’ antimicrobial peptide 
Numerous reports have indicated the important role of human normal flora in the prevention of microbial pathogenesis and disease. Evidence suggests that infections at mucosal surfaces result from the outgrowth of subpopulations or clusters within a microbial community and are not linked to one pathogenic organism alone. To preserve the protective normal flora while treating the majority of infective bacteria in the community, a tuneable therapeutic is necessary that can discriminate between benign bystanders and multiple pathogenic organisms. Here we describe the proof-of-principle for such a multitargeted antimicrobial: a multiple-headed specifically-targeted antimicrobial peptide (MH-STAMP). The completed MH-STAMP, M8(KH)-20, displays specific activity against targeted organisms in vitro (Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Streptococcus mutans) and can remove both species from a mixed planktonic culture with little impact against untargeted bacteria. These results demonstrate that a functional, dual-targeted molecule can be constructed from a wide-spectrum antimicrobial peptide precursor.
PMCID: PMC2696886  PMID: 19188046
Antimicrobial peptide; Targeted therapeutic; Streptococcus mutans; Pseudomonas aeruginosa; Peptide synthesis; Novel antibiotic; STAMP; Specifically-targeted antimicrobial peptide; MH-STAMP
7.  Bactericidal Effects of a Fusion Protein of Llama Heavy-Chain Antibodies Coupled to Glucose Oxidase on Oral Bacteria 
Enzymes such as lactoperoxidase and glucose oxidase (GOx) are used as antimicrobial agents in oral care products. Their low specificities and substantiveness can be reduced by covalent coupling of antimicrobial molecules to antibodies. Variable domains (VHH) derived from llama heavy-chain antibodies are particularly suited for such an approach. The antibodies are composed solely of heavy-chain dimers; therefore, production of active fusion proteins by using molecular biology-based techniques is less complicated than production by use of conventional antibodies. In this study, a fusion protein consisting of VHH and GOx was constructed and expressed by Saccharomyces cerevisiae. A llama was immunized with Streptococcus mutans strain HG982. Subsequently, B lymphocytes were isolated and cDNA fragments encoding the VHH fragments were obtained by reverse transcription-PCR. After construction of a VHH library in Escherichia coli and screening of the library against mutans group streptococci and Streptococcus sanguinis strains, we found two VHH fragments with high specificities for S. mutans strains. A GOx gene was linked to the two VHH genes and cloned into S. cerevisiae yeasts. The yeasts expressed and secreted the recombinant proteins into the growth medium. The test of binding of fusion proteins to oral bacteria through their VHH fragments showed that S. mutans had been specifically targeted by GOx-S120, one of the fusion protein constructs. A low concentration of the fusion protein was also able to selectively kill S. mutans within 20 min in the presence of lactoperoxidase and potassium iodide. These findings demonstrate that the fusion protein GOx-VHH is potentially valuable in the selective killing of target bacteria such as S. mutans.
PMCID: PMC514777  PMID: 15328101
8.  Enhancement of Antimicrobial Activity against Pseudomonas aeruginosa by Coadministration of G10KHc and Tobramycin▿  
Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy  2006;50(11):3833-3838.
Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a common opportunistic human pathogen that is associated with life-threatening acute infections and chronic airway colonization during cystic fibrosis. Previously, we converted the wide-spectrum antimicrobial peptide novispirin G10 into a selectively-targeted antimicrobial peptide (STAMP), G10KHc. Compared to novispirin G10, the STAMP had an enhanced ability to kill Pseudomonas mendocina. In this study, we explored the activity of G10KHc against P. aeruginosa. G10KHc was found to be highly active (as active as tobramycin) against P. aeruginosa clinical isolates. Most interestingly, we observed a synergistic-like enhancement in killing activity when biofilms and planktonic cultures of P. aeruginosa were cotreated with G10KHc and tobramycin. The data indicate that the mechanism of enhanced activity may involve increased tobramycin uptake due to G10KHc-mediated cell membrane disruption. These results suggest that G10KHc may be useful against P. aeruginosa during acute and chronic infection states, especially when it is coadministered with tobramycin.
PMCID: PMC1635211  PMID: 16940063
9.  Activity of an Antimicrobial Peptide Mimetic against Planktonic and Biofilm Cultures of Oral Pathogens▿ †  
Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy  2007;51(11):4125-4132.
Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) are naturally occurring, broad-spectrum antimicrobial agents that have recently been examined for their utility as therapeutic antibiotics. Unfortunately, they are expensive to produce and are often sensitive to protease digestion. To address this problem, we have examined the activity of a peptide mimetic whose design was based on the structure of magainin, exhibiting its amphiphilic structure. We demonstrate that this compound, meta-phenylene ethynylene (mPE), exhibits antimicrobial activity at nanomolar concentrations against a variety of bacterial and Candida species found in oral infections. Since Streptococcus mutans, an etiological agent of dental caries, colonizes the tooth surface and forms a biofilm, we quantified the activity of this compound against S. mutans growing under conditions that favor biofilm formation. Our results indicate that mPE can prevent the formation of a biofilm at nanomolar concentrations. Incubation with 5 nM mPE prevents further growth of the biofilm, and 100 nM mPE reduces viable bacteria in the biofilm by 3 logs. Structure-function analyses suggest that mPE inhibits the bioactivity of lipopolysaccharide and binds DNA at equimolar ratios, suggesting that it may act both as a membrane-active molecule, similar to magainin, and as an intracellular antibiotic, similar to other AMPs. We conclude that mPE and similar molecules display great potential for development as therapeutic antimicrobials.
PMCID: PMC2151458  PMID: 17785509
10.  Isotopic Signature Transfer and Mass Pattern Prediction (IsoStamp): An Enabling Technique for Chemically-Directed Proteomics 
ACS Chemical Biology  2011;6(8):829-836.
Directed proteomics applies mass spectrometry analysis to a subset of information-rich proteins. Here we describe a method for targeting select proteins by chemical modification with a tag that imparts a distinct isotopic signature detectable in a full-scan mass spectrum. Termed isotopic signature transfer and mass pattern prediction (IsoStamp), the technique exploits the perturbing effects of a dibrominated chemical tag on a peptide’s mass envelope, which can be detected with high sensitivity and fidelity using a computational method. Applying IsoStamp, we were able to detect femtomole quantities of a single tagged protein from total mammalian cell lysates at signal-to-noise ratios as low as 2.5:1. To identify a tagged-peptide’s sequence, we performed an inclusion list-driven shotgun proteomics experiment where peptides bearing a recoded mass envelope were targeted for fragmentation, allowing for direct site mapping. Using this approach, femtomole quantities of several targeted peptides were identified in total mammalian cell lysate, while traditional data-dependent methods were unable to identify as many peptides. Additionally, the isotopic signature imparted by the dibromide tag was detectable on a 12-kDa protein, suggesting applications in identifying large peptide fragments, such as those containing multiple or large posttranslational modifications (e.g., glycosylation). IsoStamp has the potential to enhance any proteomics platform that employs chemical labeling for targeted protein identification, including isotope coded affinity tagging, isobaric tagging for relative and absolute quantitation, and chemical tagging strategies for posttranslational modification.
PMCID: PMC3220624  PMID: 21604797
11.  Novel Synthetic Antimicrobial Peptides against Streptococcus mutans▿  
Streptococcus mutans, a common oral pathogen and the causative agent of dental caries, has persisted and even thrived on the tooth surface despite constant removal and eradication efforts. In this study, we generated a number of synthetic antimicrobial peptides against this bacterium via construction and screening of several structurally diverse peptide libraries where the hydrophobicity and charge within each library was varied incrementally in order to generate a collection of peptides with different biochemical characteristics. From these libraries, we identified multiple peptides with robust killing activity against S. mutans. To further improve their effectiveness, the most bactericidal peptides from each library were synthesized together as one molecule, in various combinations, with and without a flexible peptide linker between each antimicrobial region. Many of these “fusion” peptides had enhanced killing activities in comparison with those of the original nonconjoined molecules. The results presented here illustrate that small libraries of biochemically constrained peptides can be used to generate antimicrobial peptides against S. mutans, several of which may be likely candidates for the development of anticaries agents.
PMCID: PMC1855471  PMID: 17296741
12.  Polymeric Multilayers that Localize the Release of Chlorhexidine from Biologic Wound Dressings 
Biomaterials  2012;33(28):6783-6792.
Biologic wound dressings contain animal-derived components and are susceptible to high infection rates. To address this issue, we report an approach that permits incorporation of non-toxic levels of the small-molecule antiseptic ‘chlorhexidine’ into biologic dressings. The approach relies on the fabrication of polyelectrolyte multilayer (PEMs) films containing poly(allylaminehydrochloride) (PAH), poly(acrylicacid) (PAA), and chlorhexidine acetate (CX) on elastomeric poly(dimethylsiloxane) (PDMS) sheets. The PEMs (20-100 nm thick) are subsequently stamped onto the wound-contact surface of a synthetic biologic dressing, Biobrane, which contains collagen peptides. Chlorhexidine loading in the PEMs was tailored by tuning the number of (CX/PAA) bilayers deposited, providing burst release of up to 0.98±0.06 μg/cm2 of CX over 24 h, followed by zero order release of 0.35±0.04 μg/cm2/day for another week. Although the CX concentrations released were below the reported in vitro cytotoxicity limit (5 μg/mL over 24 h) for human dermal fibroblasts, they killed 4 log10 counts of pathogenic bacteria Staphylococcus aureus in solution. The CX/PEMs could be stamped onto Biobrane with high efficiency to provide CX release kinetics and in-vitro antibacterial activity similar to that on PDMS stamps. In a full-thickness ‘splinted’ dermal wound-model in normal wild-type mice, the CX-functionalized Biobrane showed no decrease in either its adherence to the wound-bed or wound-closure rate over 14 days. The murine wounds topically inoculated with ~105 CFU/cm2 of S. aureus and treated with CX-functionalized Biobrane demonstrated a 3 log10 decrease in the wound's bacterial burden within 3 days, compared to persistent bacterial colonization found in wounds treated with unmodified Biobrane (n=10 mice, p<0.005). Overall, this study presents a promising approach to prevent bacterial colonization in wounds under biologic dressings.
PMCID: PMC3404134  PMID: 22784602
Polyelectrolye multilayers; chlorhexidine; wound; dressing; mice; antimicrobial
13.  End-Tagging of Ultra-Short Antimicrobial Peptides by W/F Stretches to Facilitate Bacterial Killing 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(4):e5285.
Due to increasing resistance development among bacteria, antimicrobial peptides (AMPs), are receiving increased attention. Ideally, AMP should display high bactericidal potency, but low toxicity against (human) eukaryotic cells. Additionally, short and proteolytically stable AMPs are desired to maximize bioavailability and therapeutic versatility.
Methodology and Principal Findings
A facile approach is demonstrated for reaching high potency of ultra-short antimicrobal peptides through end-tagging with W and F stretches. Focusing on a peptide derived from kininogen, KNKGKKNGKH (KNK10) and truncations thereof, end-tagging resulted in enhanced bactericidal effect against Gram-negative Escherichia coli and Gram-positive Staphylococcus aureus. Through end-tagging, potency and salt resistance could be maintained down to 4–7 amino acids in the hydrophilic template peptide. Although tagging resulted in increased eukaryotic cell permeabilization at low ionic strength, the latter was insignificant at physiological ionic strength and in the presence of serum. Quantitatively, the most potent peptides investigated displayed bactericidal effects comparable to, or in excess of, that of the benchmark antimicrobial peptide LL-37. The higher bactericidal potency of the tagged peptides correlated to a higher degree of binding to bacteria, and resulting bacterial wall rupture. Analogously, tagging enhanced peptide-induced rupture of liposomes, particularly anionic ones. Additionally, end-tagging facilitated binding to bacterial lipopolysaccharide, both effects probably contributing to the selectivity displayed by these peptides between bacteria and eukaryotic cells. Importantly, W-tagging resulted in peptides with maintained stability against proteolytic degradation by human leukocyte elastase, as well as staphylococcal aureolysin and V8 proteinase. The biological relevance of these findings was demonstrated ex vivo for pig skin infected by S. aureus and E. coli.
End-tagging by hydrophobic amino acid stretches may be employed to enhance bactericidal potency also of ultra-short AMPs at maintained limited toxicity. The approach is of general applicability, and facilitates straightforward synthesis of hydrophobically modified AMPs without the need for post-peptide synthesis modifications.
PMCID: PMC2667214  PMID: 19381271
14.  Streptococcus mutans strains recovered from caries-active or caries-free individuals differ in sensitivity to host anti-microbial peptides 
Molecular oral microbiology  2011;26(3):187-199.
Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) are among the repertoire of host innate immune defenses. In the oral cavity, several AMPs are present in saliva and have antimicrobial activities against oral bacteria, including Streptococcus mutans, a primary etiologic agent of dental caries. In this study, we hypothesized that unique S. mutans strains as determined by DNA fingerprinting from sixty 13 year-old subjects with or without caries experience would have different susceptibilities to α-defensins-1-3 (HNP-1-3), β-defensins-2-3 (HBD-2-3) and LL-37. The salivary levels of these peptides in subjects also were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA). We found that S. mutans strains from caries-active subjects showed greater resistance to salivary HNP-1-2, HBD-2-3 and LL-37 at varying concentrations than those from caries-free subjects. In addition, combinations of these peptides increased their antimicrobial activity against S. mutans either additively or synergistically. The salivary levels of these peptides were highly variable among subjects with no correlation to host caries experience. However, the levels of a number of these peptides in saliva appeared to be positively correlated within an individual. Our findings suggest that the relative ability of S. mutans to resist host salivary AMPs may be considered a potential virulence factor for this species such that S. mutans strains that are more resistant to these peptides may have an ecological advantage to preferentially colonize within dental plaque and increase the risk of dental caries.
PMCID: PMC3092152  PMID: 21545696
Dental caries; defensins; S. mutans; innate immunity; saliva
15.  Stamp2 controls macrophage inflammation through nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate homeostasis and protects against atherosclerosis 
Cell metabolism  2012;16(1):81-89.
The six-transmembrane protein Stamp2 plays an important role in metabolically-triggered inflammation and insulin action. However, how and in which target cells Stamp2 regulates inflammatory responses and the physiological consequences remain unknown. Here we report that Stamp2 is expressed in human and mouse macrophages, is regulated upon differentiation or activation, acts as an anti-inflammatory protein, and regulates foam cell formation. Absence of Stamp2 results in significant increases in cellular NADPH levels, and both NADPH homeostasis and the exaggerated inflammatory response of Stamp2−/− macrophages are rescued by exogenous wild-type but not by a reductase-deficient Stamp2 molecule. Chemical and genetic suppression of NADPH production in Stamp2−/− macrophages restores the heightened inflammatory response. Stamp2 is detected in mouse and human atherosclerotic plaques and its deficiency promotes atherosclerosis in mice. Furthermore, bone marrow transplantation experiments demonstrated that Stamp2 in myeloid cells is sufficient to protect against atherosclerosis. Our data reveal a role of Stamp2 in controlling intermediary metabolites to regulate inflammatory responses in macrophages and in progression of atherosclerosis.
PMCID: PMC4163924  PMID: 22704678
16.  Antimicrobial Peptides Design by Evolutionary Multiobjective Optimization 
PLoS Computational Biology  2013;9(9):e1003212.
Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) are an abundant and wide class of molecules produced by many tissues and cell types in a variety of mammals, plant and animal species. Linear alpha-helical antimicrobial peptides are among the most widespread membrane-disruptive AMPs in nature, representing a particularly successful structural arrangement in innate defense. Recently, AMPs have received increasing attention as potential therapeutic agents, owing to their broad activity spectrum and their reduced tendency to induce resistance. The introduction of non-natural amino acids will be a key requisite in order to contrast host resistance and increase compound's life. In this work, the possibility to design novel AMP sequences with non-natural amino acids was achieved through a flexible computational approach, based on chemophysical profiles of peptide sequences. Quantitative structure-activity relationship (QSAR) descriptors were employed to code each peptide and train two statistical models in order to account for structural and functional properties of alpha-helical amphipathic AMPs. These models were then used as fitness functions for a multi-objective evolutional algorithm, together with a set of constraints for the design of a series of candidate AMPs. Two ab-initio natural peptides were synthesized and experimentally validated for antimicrobial activity, together with a series of control peptides. Furthermore, a well-known Cecropin-Mellitin alpha helical antimicrobial hybrid (CM18) was optimized by shortening its amino acid sequence while maintaining its activity and a peptide with non-natural amino acids was designed and tested, demonstrating the higher activity achievable with artificial residues.
Author Summary
In recent years, the increasing and rapid spread of pathogenic microorganisms resistant to conventional antibiotics especially in hospital settings spurred research for the identification of novel molecules endowed with antimicrobial activities and new mechanisms of action. Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) received an increasing attention as potential therapeutic agents because of their wide spectrum of activity and low rate in inducing bacterial resistance. Currently, research is focused on the design and optimization of novel AMPs to improve their antimicrobial activity, minimize the cytotoxicity and reduce the proteolytic degradation, also in biological fluids. To this end, the introduction of non-natural amino acids will be a key requisite in order to contrast host resistance and increase compound's life. However, the amino acidic alphabet extension to non-natural elements makes a systematic approach to AMPs design unfeasible. A rational in-silico approach can drastically reduce the number of testing compounds and consequently the production costs and the time required for evaluation of activity and toxicity. In this article, AMP in-silico design with non-natural amino acids was performed and a series of candidates were tested in order to demonstrate the potentiality of this approach.
PMCID: PMC3764005  PMID: 24039565
17.  Antimicrobial Properties and Membrane-Active Mechanism of a Potential α-Helical Antimicrobial Derived from Cathelicidin PMAP-36 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e86364.
Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs), which present in the non-specific immune system of organism, are amongst the most promising candidates for the development of novel antimicrobials. The modification of naturally occurring AMPs based on their residue composition and distribution is a simple and effective strategy for optimization of known AMPs. In this study, a series of truncated and residue-substituted derivatives of antimicrobial peptide PMAP-36 were designed and synthesized. The 24-residue truncated peptide, GI24, displayed antimicrobial activity comparable to the mother peptide PMAP-36 with MICs ranging from 1 to 4 µM, which is lower than the MICs of bee venom melittin. Although GI24 displayed high antimicrobial activity, its hemolytic activity was much lower than melittin, suggesting that GI24 have optimal cell selectivity. In addition, the crucial site of GI24 was identified through single site-mutation. An amino acid with high hydrophobicity at position 23 played an important role in guaranteeing the high antimicrobial activity of GI24. Then, lipid vesicles and whole bacteria were employed to investigate the membrane-active mechanisms. Membrane-simulating experiments showed that GI24 interacted strongly with negatively charged phospholipids and weakly with zwitterionic phospholipids, which corresponded well with the data of its biological activities. Membrane permeabilization and flow cytometry provide the evidence that GI24 killed microbial cells by permeabilizing the cell membrane and damaging membrane integrity. GI24 resulted in greater cell morphological changes and visible pores on cell membrane as determined using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and transmission electron microscope (TEM). Taken together, the peptide GI24 may provide a promising antimicrobial agent for therapeutic applications against the frequently-encountered bacteria.
PMCID: PMC3897731  PMID: 24466055
18.  Antimicrobials, Stress and Mutagenesis 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(10):e1004445.
Cationic antimicrobial peptides are ancient and ubiquitous immune effectors that multicellular organisms use to kill and police microbes whereas antibiotics are mostly employed by microorganisms. As antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) mostly target the cell wall, a microbial ‘Achilles heel’, it has been proposed that bacterial resistance evolution is very unlikely and hence AMPs are ancient ‘weapons’ of multicellular organisms. Here we provide a new hypothesis to explain the widespread distribution of AMPs amongst multicellular organism. Studying five antimicrobial peptides from vertebrates and insects, we show, using a classic Luria-Delbrück fluctuation assay, that cationic antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) do not increase bacterial mutation rates. Moreover, using rtPCR and disc diffusion assays we find that AMPs do not elicit SOS or rpoS bacterial stress pathways. This is in contrast to the main classes of antibiotics that elevate mutagenesis via eliciting the SOS and rpoS pathways. The notion of the ‘Achilles heel’ has been challenged by experimental selection for AMP-resistance, but our findings offer a new perspective on the evolutionary success of AMPs. Employing AMPs seems advantageous for multicellular organisms, as it does not fuel the adaptation of bacteria to their immune defenses. This has important consequences for our understanding of host-microbe interactions, the evolution of innate immune defenses, and also sheds new light on antimicrobial resistance evolution and the use of AMPs as drugs.
Author Summary
Cationic antimicrobial peptides are ancient and ubiquitous immune effectors that multicellular organisms use to kill and police microbes, whilst antibiotics are mostly employed by microorganisms. Here we provide a new hypothesis to explain this widespread adoption of antimicrobial peptides. We show that cationic antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) do not increase bacterial mutagenesis, as they do not elicit bacterial stress pathways. Those stress pathways increase the mutation rate when bacteria are treated with antibiotics. Employing AMPs hence seems advantageous for multicellular organisms, as it does not fuel the adaptation of bacteria to their immune defenses. This has important consequences for our understanding of host-microbe interactions, the evolution of innate immune defenses, and also sheds new light on antimicrobial resistance evolution and the use of AMPs as drugs.
PMCID: PMC4192597  PMID: 25299705
19.  From antimicrobial to anticancer peptides. A review 
Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) are part of the innate immune defense mechanism of many organisms. Although AMPs have been essentially studied and developed as potential alternatives for fighting infectious diseases, their use as anticancer peptides (ACPs) in cancer therapy either alone or in combination with other conventional drugs has been regarded as a therapeutic strategy to explore. As human cancer remains a cause of high morbidity and mortality worldwide, an urgent need of new, selective, and more efficient drugs is evident. Even though ACPs are expected to be selective toward tumor cells without impairing the normal body physiological functions, the development of a selective ACP has been a challenge. It is not yet possible to predict antitumor activity based on ACPs structures. ACPs are unique molecules when compared to the actual chemotherapeutic arsenal available for cancer treatment and display a variety of modes of action which in some types of cancer seem to co-exist. Regardless the debate surrounding the definition of structure-activity relationships for ACPs, great effort has been invested in ACP design and the challenge of improving effective killing of tumor cells remains. As detailed studies on ACPs mechanisms of action are crucial for optimizing drug development, in this review we provide an overview of the literature concerning peptides' structure, modes of action, selectivity, and efficacy and also summarize some of the many ACPs studied and/or developed for targeting different solid and hematologic malignancies with special emphasis on the first group. Strategies described for drug development and for increasing peptide selectivity toward specific cells while reducing toxicity are also discussed.
PMCID: PMC3787199  PMID: 24101917
anticancer peptides; tumor selectivity; electrostatic interactions; membrane disruption; apoptosis induction; necrosis; drug development
20.  Mechanism-Based Pharmacodynamic Models of Fluoroquinolone Resistance in Staphylococcus aureus 
Pharmacodynamic modeling from earlier experiments in which two ciprofloxacin-susceptible Staphylococcus aureus strains and their corresponding resistant grlA mutants were exposed to a series of ciprofloxacin (J. J. Campion, P. J. McNamara, and M. E. Evans, Antimicrob. Agents Chemother. 49:209-219, 2005) and levofloxacin (J. J. Campion et al., Antimicrob. Agents Chemother. 49:2189-2199, 2005) pharmacokinetic profiles in an in vitro system indicated that the subpopulation-specific estimated maximal killing rate constants were similar for both agents, suggesting a common mechanism of action. We propose two novel pharmacodynamic models that assign mechanisms of action to fluoroquinolones (growth inhibition or death stimulation) and compare the abilities of these models and two other maximum effect models (net effect and MIC based) to describe and predict the changes in the population dynamics observed during our previous in vitro system experiments with ciprofloxacin. A high correlation between predicted and observed viable counts was observed for all models, but the best fits, as assessed by diagnostic tests, and the most precise parameter estimates were obtained with the growth inhibition and net effect models. All models, except the death stimulation model, correctly predicted that resistant subpopulations would not emerge when a high-density culture was exposed to a high initial concentration designed to rapidly eradicate low-level-resistant grlA mutants. Additional experiments are necessary to elucidate which of the proposed mechanistic models best characterizes the antibacterial effects of fluoroquinolone antimicrobial agents.
PMCID: PMC1563538  PMID: 16940088
21.  A genomic approach highlights common and diverse effects and determinants of susceptibility on the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae exposed to distinct antimicrobial peptides 
BMC Microbiology  2010;10:289.
The mechanism of action of antimicrobial peptides (AMP) was initially correlated with peptide membrane permeation properties. However, recent evidences indicate that action of a number of AMP is more complex and involves specific interactions at cell envelopes or with intracellular targets. In this study, a genomic approach was undertaken on the model yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae to characterize the antifungal effect of two unrelated AMP.
Two differentiated peptides were used: the synthetic cell-penetrating PAF26 and the natural cytolytic melittin. Transcriptomic analyses demonstrated distinctive gene expression changes for each peptide. Quantitative RT-PCR confirmed differential expression of selected genes. Gene Ontology (GO) annotation of differential gene lists showed that the unique significant terms shared by treatment with both peptides were related to the cell wall (CW). Assays with mutants lacking CW-related genes including those of MAPK signaling pathways revealed genes having influence on sensitivity to peptides. Fluorescence microscopy and flow cytometry demonstrated PAF26 interaction with cells and internalization that correlated with cell killing in sensitive CW-defective mutants such as Δecm33 or Δssd1. GO annotation also showed differential responses between peptides, which included ribosomal biogenesis, ARG genes from the metabolism of amino groups (specifically induced by PAF26), or the reaction to unfolded protein stress. Susceptibility of deletion mutants confirmed the involvement of these processes. Specifically, mutants lacking ARG genes from the metabolism of arginine pathway were markedly more resistant to PAF26 and had a functional CW. In the deletant in the arginosuccinate synthetase (ARG1) gene, PAF26 interaction occurred normally, thus uncoupling peptide interaction from cell killing. The previously described involvement of the glycosphingolipid gene IPT1 was extended to the peptides studied here.
Reinforcement of CW is a general response common after exposure to distinct AMP, and likely contributes to shield cells from peptide interaction. However, a weakened CW is not necessarily indicative of a higher sensitivity to AMP. Additional processes modulate susceptibility to specific peptides, exemplified in the involvement of the metabolism of amino groups in the case of PAF26. The relevance of the response to unfolded protein stress or the sphingolipid biosynthesis, previously reported for other unrelated AMP, was also independently confirmed.
PMCID: PMC2996382  PMID: 21078184
22.  A Conserved Streptococcal Membrane Protein, LsrS, Exhibits a Receptor-Like Function for Lantibiotics 
Journal of Bacteriology  2014;196(8):1578-1587.
Streptococcus mutans strain GS-5 produces a two-peptide lantibiotic, Smb, which displays inhibitory activity against a broad spectrum of bacteria, including other streptococci. For inhibition, lantibiotics must recognize specific receptor molecules present on the sensitive bacterial cells. However, so far no such receptor proteins have been identified for any lantibiotics. In this study, using a powerful transposon mutagenesis approach, we have identified in Streptococcus pyogenes a gene that exhibits a receptor-like function for Smb. The protein encoded by that gene, which we named LsrS, is a membrane protein belonging to the CAAX protease family. We also found that nisin, a monopeptide lantibiotic, requires LsrS for its optimum inhibitory activity. However, we found that LsrS is not required for inhibition by haloduracin and galolacticin, both of which are two-peptide lantibiotics closely related to Smb. LsrS appears to be a well-conserved protein that is present in many streptococci, including S. mutans. Inactivation of SMU.662, an LsrS homolog, in S. mutans strains UA159 and V403 rendered the cells refractory to Smb-mediated killing. Furthermore, overexpression of LsrS in S. mutans created cells more susceptible to Smb. Although LsrS and its homolog contain the CAAX protease domain, we demonstrate that inactivation of the putative active sites on the LsrS protein has no effect on its receptor-like function. This is the first report describing a highly conserved membrane protein that displays a receptor-like function for lantibiotics.
PMCID: PMC3993366  PMID: 24509319
23.  Targeted Antimicrobial Treatment to Re-establish a Healthy Microbial Flora for Long-term Protection 
Advances in Dental Research  2012;24(2):94-97.
Streptococcus mutans has been implicated as the major acid-producing (cariogenic) bacterium. Dietary sugars and other factors may cause an imbalance of oral microflora that enables S. mutans to become dominant in the multi-species biofilms on the tooth surface, which could lead to dental caries. The application of broad-spectrum antimicrobials often results in re-colonization and re-dominance of S. mutans within oral flora, while in contrast, therapies capable of selective elimination of S. mutans from oral microbial communities may help to re-establish the normal flora and provide long-term protection. C16G2, a novel synthetic antimicrobial peptide with specificity for S. mutans, was found to have robust killing efficacy and selectivity for S. mutans in vitro. A subsequent pilot human study found that a single application of C16G2 in the oral cavity (formulated in a mouthrinse vehicle) was associated with a reduction in plaque and salivary S. mutans, lactic acid production, and enamel demineralization during the entire 4-day testing period. C16G2 is now being developed as a new anticaries drug.
PMCID: PMC3420366  PMID: 22899688
microbial ecology; microbiology; microbial genetics; caries; dental biofilm; microbiota
24.  Growth-inhibitory and bactericidal effects of human parotid salivary histidine-rich polypeptides on Streptococcus mutans. 
Infection and Immunity  1984;44(3):695-701.
Growth inhibition and cell viability assays demonstrate that the histidine-rich polypeptides isolated from human parotid saliva are bacteriostatic and bactericidal for strains of Streptococcus mutans belonging to the serotype b and c classifications. Both inhibition of growth and cell division are enhanced by preincubation of bacteria with these polypeptides in low-ionic-strength buffers of acidic and neutral pH before dilution into enriched growth media. With prior exposure at pH 6.8, inhibition by these polypeptides of the serotype c strains, S. mutans GS5 and SB, as well as the serotype b strain, S. mutans BHT, is reversible over time under the experimental conditions selected. With similar exposure at pH 5.2, however, irreversible damage is manifested by complete inhibition of both growth and cell viability. At concentrations of 250 micrograms of the mixture of histidine-rich polypeptides per 5 X 10(5) bacterial cells per ml in the acidic preincubation buffer, bacterial lethality is maintained for a period of 48 h in the enriched growth media. At a 50-micrograms/ml concentration of these salivary agents, approximately 80% killing of S. mutans SB is noted after a 24-h incubation; however, surviving bacteria multiply and reach turbidities of untreated control cells when examined at the 48-h growth point. Similarly, hen egg white lysozyme is also found to be bactericidal for these microorganisms when preincubation is carried out under acidic conditions. However, in contrast to the histidine-rich polypeptides, lysozyme under these experimental conditions does not inhibit growth of S. mutans SB at neutral pH, although it does inhibit growth of both S. mutans BHT and S. mutans GS5 at this pH. Preexposure of S. mutans SB to the peptides in buffer at ionic strengths of 0.025 to 0.125, followed by either viability assays under nongrowing conditions or growth inhibition studies, suggests that there is very little effect of ionic strength on the antibacterial function of these peptides. In contrast to the inhibition of viability noted under growing conditions, lower concentrations of the histidine-rich polypeptides were required to elicit immediate cell death under nongrowing conditions.
PMCID: PMC263672  PMID: 6724693
25.  The Redox-Sensing Regulator Rex Modulates Central Carbon Metabolism, Stress Tolerance Response and Biofilm Formation by Streptococcus mutans 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e44766.
The Rex repressor has been implicated in regulation of central carbon and energy metabolism in Gram-positive bacteria. We have previously shown that Streptococcus mutans, the primary causative agent of dental caries, alters its transcriptome upon Rex-deficiency and renders S. mutans to have increased susceptibility to oxidative stress, aberrations in glucan production, and poor biofilm formation. In this study, we showed that rex in S. mutans is co-transcribed as an operon with downstream guaA, encoding a putative glutamine amidotransferase. Electrophoretic mobility shift assays showed that recombinant Rex bound promoters of target genes avidly and specifically, including those down-regulated in response to Rex-deficiency, and that the ability of recombinant Rex to bind to selected promoters was modulated by NADH and NAD+. Results suggest that Rex in S. mutans can function as an activator in response to intracellular NADH/NAD+ level, although the exact binding site for activator Rex remains unclear. Consistent with a role in oxidative stress tolerance, hydrogen peroxide challenge assays showed that the Rex-deficient mutant, TW239, and the Rex/GuaA double mutant, JB314, were more susceptible to hydrogen peroxide killing than the wildtype, UA159. Relative to UA159, JB314 displayed major defects in biofilm formation, with a decrease of more than 50-fold in biomass after 48-hours. Collectively, these results further suggest that Rex in S. mutans regulates fermentation pathways, oxidative stress tolerance, and biofilm formation in response to intracellular NADH/NAD+ level. Current effort is being directed to further investigation of the role of GuaA in S. mutans cellular physiology.
PMCID: PMC3441419  PMID: 23028612

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