The contribution of skin antimicrobial peptides to the system of innate immunity in anurans
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Cationic peptides with the propensity to adopt an amphipathic α-helical conformation in a membrane-mimetic environment are synthesized in the skins of many species of anurans (frogs and toads). These peptides frequently display cytolytic activities against a range of pathogenic bacteria and fungi consistent with the idea that they play a role in the host's system of innate immunity. However, the importance of the peptides in the survival strategy of the animal is not clearly understood. It is a common misconception that antimicrobial peptides are synthesized in the skins of all anurans. In fact, the species distribution is sporadic suggesting that their production may confer some evolutionary advantage to the organism but is not necessary for survival. Although growth inhibitory activity against the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, responsible for anuran population declines worldwide, has been demonstrated in vitro, the ability of frog skin antimicrobial peptides to protect the animal in the wild appears to be limited and there is no clear correlation between their production by a species and its resistance to fatal chytridiomycosis. The low potency of many frog skin antimicrobial peptides is consistent with the hypothesis that cutaneous symbiotic bacteria may provide the major system of defense against pathogenic microorganisms in the environment with antimicrobial peptides assuming a supplementary role in some species.