Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) are as widespread as bacterial inactivator molecules in the innate immune systems of insects, fungi, plants, and mammals. These peptides are also known as host defense peptides (HDPs) as they have other immuno-modulatory functions besides the direct antimicrobial actions and are even capable of killing cancerous cells 1,2.
Three broad categories of HDPs have been identified: 1) the linear peptides with helical structures, 2) the cysteine stabilized peptides with beta-sheet, and 3) a group of linear peptides rich in proline and arginine that primarily have been identified in non-mammalian species.
In mammals, cathelicidins and defensins are the two principal AMP families. Cathelicidins are peptides with a conserved proregion and a variable C-terminal antimicrobial domain. Defensins are the best-characterized AMPs, they have six invariant cysteines, forming three intramolecular cystine-disulfide bonds.
Mode of action
The mode of action of AMPs elucidated to date include inhibition of cell wall formation, formation of pores in the cell membrane resulting in the disruption of membrane potential with eventual lysis of the cell. These peptides also inhibit nuclease activity of both RNase and DNase.
They have a broad ability to kill microbes. AMPs form an important means of host defense in eukaryotes. Large AMPs (>100 amino acids), are often lytic, nutrient-binding proteins or specifically target microbial macromolecules. Small AMPs act by disrupting the structure of microbial cell membranes. It plays an active role in wound repair and regulation of the adaptive immune system. They have multiple roles as mediators of inflammation with impact on epithelial and inflammatory cells, influencing diverse processes such as cell proliferation, wound healing, cytokine release, chemotaxis, immune induction 3.
1. Gottlieb CT, Thomsen LE, Ingmer H, Mygind PH, Kristensen HH, Gram L(2008). Antimicrobial peptides effectively kill a broad spectrum of Listeria monocytogenes and Staphylococcus aureus strains independently of origin, sub-type, or virulence factor expression. BMC Microbiol., 8:205.
2. Yeaman MR and Yount NY (2003). Mechanisms of Antimicrobial Peptide Action and Resistance. Pharmocological Reviews, 55(1).
3. Hanna Galkowska H and Olszewski WL (2003). Antimicrobial peptides – their role in immunity and therapeutic potential. Centr Eur J Immunol., 28 (3):138–141.