, Volume 44, Issue 2, pp 645-660,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Effect of repetitive lysine–tryptophan motifs on the bactericidal activity of antimicrobial peptides


Previous studies identified lysine- and tryptophan-rich sequences within various cationic antimicrobial peptides. In the present study, we synthesized a series of peptides composed of lysine (K)-tryptophan (W) repeats (KW) n (where n equals 2, 3, 4 or 5) with amidation of the C-terminal to increase cationicity. We found that increases in chain length up to (KW)4 enhanced the peptides’ antibacterial activity; (KW)5 exhibited somewhat less bactericidal activity than (KW)4. Cytotoxicity, measured as lysis of human red blood cells, also increased with increasing chain length. With (KW)5, reduced antibacterial activity and increased cytotoxicity correlated with greater hydrophobicity and self-aggregation in the aqueous environment. The peptides acted by inducing rapid collapse of the bacterial transmembrane potential and induction of membrane permeability. The mode of interaction of the peptides and the phosphate groups of lipopolysaccharide was dependent upon the peptides’ ability to permeate the membrane. Longer peptides [(KW)4 and (KW)5] but not shorter peptides [(KW)2 and (KW)3] strongly bound and partially inserted into negatively charged, anionic lipid bilayers. These longer peptides also induced membrane permeabilization and aggregation of lipid vesicles. The peptides had a disordered structure in aqueous solution, and only (KW)4 and (KW)5 displayed a folded conformation on lipid membranes. Moreover, (KW)4 destroyed and agglutinated bacterial cells, demonstrating its potential as an antimicrobial agent. Collectively, the results show (KW)4 to be the most efficacious peptide in the (KW) n series, exhibiting strong antibacterial activity with little cytotoxicity.