Physicochemical-guided design of cathelicidin-derived peptides generates membrane active variants with therapeutic potential

Oliveira, Nelson G.J.; Cardoso, Marlon H.; Velikova, Nadya; Giesbers, Marcel; Wells, Jerry M.; Rezende, Taia M.B.; Vries, Renko de; Franco, Octávio L.


The spread of multi-drug resistance and the slow pace at which antibiotics come onto the market are undermining our ability to treat human infections, leading to high mortality rates. Aiming to overcome this global crisis, antimicrobial peptides are considered promising alternatives to counter bacterial infections with multi-drug resistant bacteria. The cathelicidins comprise a well-studied class of AMPs whose members have been used as model molecules for sequence modifications, aiming at enhanced biological activities and stability, along with reduced toxic effects on mammalian cells. Here, we describe the antimicrobial activities, modes of action and structural characterization of two novel cathelicidin-like peptides, named BotrAMP14 and CrotAMP14, which were re-designed from snake batroxicidin and crotalicidin, respectively. BotrAMP14 and CrotAMP14 showed broad-spectrum antibacterial activity against susceptible microorganisms and clinical isolates with minimal inhibitory concentrations ranging from 2–35.1 μM. Moreover, both peptides had low cytotoxicity against Caco-2 cells in vitro. In addition, in vivo toxicity against Galleria mellonella moth larvae revealed that both peptides led to>76% larval survival after 144 h. Microscopy studies suggest that BotrAMP14 and CrotAMP14 destabilize E. coli membranes. Furthermore, circular dichroism and molecular dynamics simulations indicate that, in a membrane-like environment, both peptides adopt α-helical structures that interact with bilayer phospholipids through hydrogen bonds and electrostatic interaction. Thus, we concluded that BotrAMP14 and CrotAMP14 are helical membrane active peptides, with similar antibacterial properties but lower cytotoxicity than the larger parent peptides batroxicidin and crotalicidin, having advantages for drug development strategies.