Biochimica et biophysica acta

Solution NMR studies of amphibian antimicrobial peptides: linking structure to function?

PMID 19272309


The high-resolution three-dimensional structure of an antimicrobial peptide has implications for the mechanism of its antimicrobial activity, as the conformation of the peptide provides insights into the intermolecular interactions that govern the binding to its biological target. For many cationic antimicrobial peptides the negatively charged membranes surrounding the bacterial cell appear to be a main target. In contrast to what has been found for other classes of antimicrobial peptides, solution NMR studies have revealed that in spite of the wide diversity in the amino acid sequences of amphibian antimicrobial peptides (AAMPs), they all adopt amphipathic alpha-helical structures in the presence of membrane-mimetic micelles, bicelles or organic solvent mixtures. In some cases the amphipathic AAMP structures are directly membrane-perturbing (e.g. magainin, aurein and the rana-box peptides), in other instances the peptide spontaneously passes through the membrane and acts on intracellular targets (e.g. buforin). Armed with a high-resolution structure, it is possible to relate the peptide structure to other relevant biophysical and biological data to elucidate a mechanism of action. While many linear AAMPs have significant antimicrobial activity of their own, mixtures of peptides sometimes have vastly improved antibiotic effects. Thus, synergy among antimicrobial peptides is an avenue of research that has recently attracted considerable attention. While synergistic relationships between AAMPs are well described, it is becoming increasingly evident that analyzing the intermolecular interactions between these peptides will be essential for understanding the increased antimicrobial effect. NMR structure determination of hybrid peptides composed of known antimicrobial peptides can shed light on these intricate synergistic relationships. In this work, we present the first NMR solution structure of a hybrid peptide composed of magainin 2 and PGLa bound to SDS and DPC micelles. The hybrid peptide adopts a largely helical conformation and some information regarding the inter-helix organization of this molecule is reported. The solution structure of the micelle associated MG2-PGLa hybrid peptide highlights the importance of examining structural contributions to the synergistic relationships but it also demonstrates the limitations in the resolution of the currently used solution NMR techniques for probing such interactions. Future studies of antimicrobial peptide synergy will likely require stable isotope-labeling strategies, similar to those used in NMR studies of proteins.