Biochimica et biophysica acta

Determining the mechanism of membrane permeabilizing peptides: identification of potent, equilibrium pore-formers.

PMID 22365969


To enable selection and characterization of highly potent pore-forming peptides, we developed a set of novel assays to probe 1) the potency of peptide pores at very low peptide concentration; 2) the presence or absence of pores in membranes after equilibration; 3) the interbilayer exchangeability of pore-forming peptides; and 4) the degree to which pore-forming peptides disrupt the bilayer organization at equilibrium. Here, we use these assays to characterize, in parallel, six membrane-permeabilizing peptides belonging to multiple classes. We tested the antimicrobial peptides LL37 and dermaseptin S1, the well-known natural lytic peptides melittin and alamethicin, and the very potent lentivirus lytic peptides LLP1 and LLP2 from the cytoplasmic domain of HIV GP41. The assays verified that that the antimicrobial peptides are not potent pore formers, and form only transient permeabilization pathways in bilayers which are not detectable at equilibrium. The other peptides are far more potent and form pores that are still detectable in vesicles after many hours. Among the peptides studies, alamethicin is unique in that it is very potent, readily exchanges between vesicles, and disturbs the local bilayer structure even at very low concentration. The equally potent LLP peptides do not exchange readily and do not perturb the bilayer at equilibrium. Comparison of these classes of pore forming peptides in parallel using the set of assays we developed demonstrates our ability to detect differences in their mechanism of action. Importantly, these assays will be very useful in high-throughput screening where highly potent pore-forming peptides can be selected based on their mechanism of action.