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1.  Rapid Probing of Biological Surfaces with a Sparse-Matrix Peptide Library 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(8):e23551.
Finding unique peptides to target specific biological surfaces is crucial to basic research and technology development, though methods based on biological arrays or large libraries limit the speed and ease with which these necessary compounds can be found. We reasoned that because biological surfaces, such as cell surfaces, mineralized tissues, and various extracellular matrices have unique molecular compositions, they present unique physicochemical signatures to the surrounding medium which could be probed by peptides with appropriately corresponding physicochemical properties. To test this hypothesis, a naïve pilot library of 36 peptides, varying in their hydrophobicity and charge, was arranged in a two-dimensional matrix and screened against various biological surfaces. While the number of peptides in the matrix library was very small, we obtained “hits” against all biological surfaces probed. Sequence refinement of the “hits” led to peptides with markedly higher specificity and binding activity against screened biological surfaces. Genetic studies revealed that peptide binding to bacteria was mediated, at least in some cases, by specific cell-surface molecules, while examination of human tooth sections showed that this method can be used to derive peptides with highly specific binding to human tissue.
PMCID: PMC3156232  PMID: 21858167
2.  Design and Characterization of an Acid-Activated Antimicrobial Peptide 
Chemical biology & drug design  2009;75(1):127-132.
Dental caries is a microbial biofilm infection in which the metabolic activities of plaque bacteria result in a dramatic pH decrease and shift the demineralization/ remineralization equilibrium on the tooth surface towards demineralization. In addition to causing a net loss in tooth minerals creation of an acidic environment favors growth of acid enduring and acid generating species, which causes further reduction in the plaque pH. In this study we developed a prototype antimicrobial peptide capable of achieving high activity exclusively at low environmental pH to target bacterial species like Streptococcus mutans that produce acid and thrive under the low pH conditions detrimental for tooth integrity. The features of clavanin A, a naturally occurring peptide rich in histidine and phenylalanine residues with pH-dependent antimicrobial activity, served as a design basis for these prototype “acid-activated peptides” (AAPs). Employing the major cariogenic species S. mutans as a model system, the two AAPs characterized in this study exhibited a striking pH-dependent antimicrobial activity which correlated well with the calculated charge distribution. This type of peptide represents a potential new way to combat dental caries.
PMCID: PMC2790279  PMID: 19878192
Targeted antimicrobial therapy; pH dependent antimicrobial activity; biofilm; Streptococcus mutans
3.  Systematic Approach to Optimizing Specifically Targeted Antimicrobial Peptides against Streptococcus mutans▿  
Previously we reported a novel strategy of “targeted killing” through the design of narrow-spectrum molecules known as specifically targeted antimicrobial peptides (STAMPs) (R. Eckert et al., Antimicrob. Agents Chemother. 50:3651-3657, 2006; R. Eckert et al., Antimicrob. Agents Chemother. 50:1480-1488, 2006). Construction of these molecules requires the identification and the subsequent utilization of two conjoined yet functionally independent peptide components: the targeting and killing regions. In this study, we sought to design and synthesize a large number of STAMPs targeting Streptococcus mutans, the primary etiologic agent of human dental caries, in order to identify candidate peptides with increased killing speed and selectivity compared with their unmodified precursor antimicrobial peptides (AMPs). We hypothesized that a combinatorial approach, utilizing a set number of AMP, targeting, and linker regions, would be an effective method for the identification of STAMPs with the desired level of activity. STAMPs composed of the Sm6 S. mutans binding peptide and the PL-135 AMP displayed selectivity at MICs after incubation for 18 to 24 h. A STAMP where PL-135 was replaced by the B-33 killing domain exhibited both selectivity and rapid killing within 1 min of exposure and displayed activity against multispecies biofilms grown in the presence of saliva. These results suggest that potent and selective STAMP molecules can be designed and improved via a tunable “building-block” approach.
PMCID: PMC2863653  PMID: 20211885
4.  The cia Operon of Streptococcus mutans Encodes a Unique Component Required for Calcium-Mediated Autoregulation 
Molecular microbiology  2008;70(1):112-126.
Streptococcus mutans is a primary pathogen for dental caries in humans. CiaR and CiaH of S. mutans comprise a two-component signal transduction system (TCS) involved in regulating various virulent factors. However, the signal that triggers the CiaRH response remains unknown. In this study, we show that calcium is a signal for regulation of the ciaRH operon, and that a double-glycine-containing small peptide encoded within the ciaRH operon (renamed ciaX) mediates this regulation. CiaX contains a serine-aspartate (SD) domain that is shared by calcium-binding proteins. A markerless in-frame deletion of ciaX reduced ciaRH operon expression and diminished the calcium repression of operon transcription. Point mutations of the SD-domain resulted in the same phenotype as the in-frame deletion, indicating that the SD-domain is required for CiaX function. Further characterization of ciaX demonstrated that it is involved in calcium mediated biofilm formation. Furthermore, inactivation of ciaR or ciaH led to the same phenotype as the in-frame deletion of ciaX, suggesting that all three genes are involved in the same regulatory pathway. Sequence analysis and real-time RT-PCR identified a putative CiaR binding site upstream of ciaX. We conclude that the ciaXRH operon is a three-component, self-regulatory system modulating cellular functions in response to calcium.
PMCID: PMC2955730  PMID: 18681938
5.  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
6.  Specific Binding and Mineralization of Calcified Surfaces by Small Peptides 
Calcified Tissue International  2009;86(1):58-66.
Several small (<25aa) peptides have been designed based on the sequence of the dentin phosphoprotein, one of the major noncollagenous proteins thought to be involved in the mineralization of the dentin extracellular matrix during tooth development. These peptides, consisting of multiple repeats of the tripeptide aspartate-serine-serine (DSS), bind with high affinity to calcium phosphate compounds and, when immobilized, can recruit calcium phosphate to peptide-derivatized polystyrene beads or to demineralized human dentin surfaces. The affinity of binding to hydroxyapatite surfaces increases with the number of (DSS)n repeats, and though similar repeated sequences—(NTT)n, (DTT)n, (ETT)n, (NSS)n, (ESS)n, (DAA)n, (ASS)n, and (NAA)n—also showed HA binding activity, it was generally not at the same level as the natural sequence. Binding of the (DSS)n peptides to sectioned human teeth was shown to be tissue-specific, with high levels of binding to the mantle dentin, lower levels of binding to the circumpulpal dentin, and little or no binding to healthy enamel. Phosphorylation of the serines of these peptides was found to affect the avidity, but not the affinity, of binding. The potential utility of these peptides in the detection of carious lesions, the delivery of therapeutic compounds to mineralized tissues, and the modulation of remineralization is discussed.
PMCID: PMC2798077  PMID: 19949943
Dentin phosphoprotein; Peptide; Mineralization
7.  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
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.  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
10.  Adding Selectivity to Antimicrobial Peptides: Rational Design of a Multidomain Peptide against Pseudomonas spp. 
Currently available antimicrobials exhibit broad killing with regard to bacterial genera and species. Indiscriminate killing of microbes by these conventional antibiotics can disrupt the ecological balance of the indigenous microbial flora, often resulting in negative clinical consequences. Species-specific antimicrobials capable of precisely targeting pathogenic bacteria without damaging benign microorganisms provide a means of avoiding this problem. In this communication, we report the successful creation of the first synthetic, target-specific antimicrobial peptide, G10KHc, via addition of a rationally designed Pseudomonas-specific targeting moiety (KH) to a generally killing peptide (novispirin G10). The resulting chimeric peptide showed enhanced bactericidal activity and faster killing kinetics against Pseudomonas spp. than G10 alone. The enhanced killing activities are due to increased binding and penetration of the outer membrane of Pseudomonas sp. cells. These properties were not observed in tests of untargeted bacterial species, and this specificity allowed G10KHc to selectively eliminate Pseudomonas spp. from mixed cultures. This work lays a foundation for generating target-specific “smart” antimicrobials to complement currently available conventional antibiotics.
PMCID: PMC1426969  PMID: 16569868

Results 1-10 (10)