Antimicrobial peptides and their interaction Cell Membrane and Microbial Surface Interactions

Author(s): Ahmed Tanvir*

Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) selectively kill bacteria by disrupting their cell membranes, and are promising compounds to fight drug-resistant microbes. Biophysical studies on model membranes have characterized AMP/membrane interactions and the mechanism of bilayer perturbation, showing that accumulation of cationic peptide molecules in the external leaflet leads to the formation of pores. However, similar quantitative studies on real cells are extremely limited. Here, we investigated the interaction of the dansylated PMAP23 peptide with a Gram-positive bacterium, showing that 107 bound peptide molecules per cell are needed to kill it. This result is consistent with our previous finding for Gram-negative strains, where a similar high threshold for killing was determined, demonstrating the general relevance of the carpet model for real bacteria. However, in the case of the Gram-positive strain, this number of molecules even exceeds the total surface available on the bacterial membrane. The high affinity of DNS-PMAP23 for the anionic teichoic acids of the Gram-positive cell wall, but not for the lipopolysaccharides of Gram-negative bacteria, provides a rationale for this finding. To better define the role of anionic lipids in peptide/cell association, we studied DNS-PMAP23 interaction with E. coli mutant strains lacking phosphatidylglycerol and/or cardiolipin. Surprisingly, these strains showed a peptide affinity similar to that of the wild type. This finding was rationalized by observing that these bacteria have an increased content of other anionic lipids, thus maintaining the total membrane charge essentially constant. Finally, studies of DNS-PMAP23 association to dead bacteria showed an affinity an order of magnitude higher compared to that of live cells, suggesting strong peptide binding to intracellular components that become accessible after membrane perturbation. This effect could play a role in population resistance to AMP action, since dead bacteria could protect the surviving cells by sequestering significant amounts of peptide molecules. Overall, our data indicate that quantitative studies of peptide association to bacteria can lead to a better understanding of the mechanism of action of AMPs.