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The positively charged side chains of cationic antimicrobial peptides are generally thought to provide the initial long-range electrostatic attractive forces that guide them towards the negatively charged bacterial membranes. Peptide analogs were designed to examine the role of the four Arg side chains in the cathelicidin peptide tritrpticin (VRRFPWWWPFLRR). The analogs include several noncoded Arg and Lys derivatives that offer small variations in side chain length and methylation state. The peptides were tested for bactericidal and hemolytic activities, and their membrane insertion and permeabilization properties were characterized by leakage assays and fluorescence spectroscopy. A net charge of +5 for most of the analogs maintains their high antimicrobial activity and directs them towards preferential insertion into model bacterial membrane systems with a similar extent of burial of the Trp side chains. However the peptides exhibit significant functional differences. Analogs with methylated cationic side chains cause lower levels of membrane leakage and are associated with lower hemolytic activities, making them potentially attractive pharmaceutical candidates. Analogs containing the Arg guanidinium groups cause more membrane disruption than those containing the Lys amino groups. Peptides in the latter group with shorter side chains have increased membrane activity and conversely, elongating the Arg residue causes slightly higher membrane activity. Altogether, the potential for strong hydrogen bonding between the four positive Arg side chains with the phospholipid head groups seems to be a determinant for the membrane disruptive properties of tritrpticin and many related cationic antimicrobial peptides. Copyright © 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Leonard T Nguyen, Leonie de Boer, Sebastian A J Zaat, Hans J Vogel. Investigating the cationic side chains of the antimicrobial peptide tritrpticin: hydrogen bonding properties govern its membrane-disruptive activities. Biochimica et biophysica acta. 2011 Sep;1808(9):2297-303

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PMID: 21641334

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