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Understanding the antimicrobial properties/activity of an 11-residue Lys homopeptide by alanine and proline scan


Previous work demonstrated that lysine homopeptides adopt a polyproline II (PPII) structure. Lysine homopeptides with odd number of residues, especially with 11 residues (K11), were capable of inhibiting the growth of a broader spectrum of bacteria than those with an even number. Confocal studies also determined that K11 was able to localize exclusively in the bacterial membrane, leading to cell death. In this work, the mechanism of action of this peptide was further analyzed focused on examining the structural changes in bacterial membrane induced by K11, and in K11 itself when interacting with bacterial membrane lipids. Moreover, alanine and proline scans were performed for K11 to identify relevant positions in structure conformation and antibacterial activity. To do so, circular dichroism spectroscopy (CD) was conducted in saline phosphate buffer (PBS) and in lipidic vesicles, using large unilamellar vesicles (LUV), composed of 2-dimyristoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphoglycerol (DMPG) or bacterial membrane lipid. Antimicrobial activity of K11 and their analogs was evaluated in Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacterial strains. The scanning electron microscopy (SEM) micrographs of Staphylococcus aureus ATCC 25923 exposed to the Lys homopeptide at MIC concentration showed blisters and bubbles formed on the bacterial surface, suggesting that K11 exerts its action by destabilizing the bacterial membrane. CD analysis revealed a remarkably enhanced PPII structure of K11 when replacing some of its central residues by proline in PBS. However, when such peptide analogs were confronted with either DMPG-LUV or membrane lipid extract-LUV, the tendency to form PPII structure was severely weakened. On the contrary, K11 peptide showed a remarkably enhanced PPII structure in the presence of DMPG-LUV. Antibacterial tests revealed that K11 was able to inhibit all tested bacteria with an MIC value of 5 µM, while proline and alanine analogs have a reduced activity on Listeria monocytogenes. Besides, the activity against Vibrio parahaemolyticus was affected in most of the alanine-substituted analogs. However, lysine substitutions by alanine or proline at position 7 did not alter the activity against all tested bacterial strains, suggesting that this position can be screened to find a substitute amino acid yielding a peptide with increased antibacterial activity. These results also indicate that the PPII secondary structure of K11 is stabilized by the interaction of the peptide with negatively charged phospholipids in the bacterial membrane, though not being the sole determinant for its antimicrobial activity.

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This work was supported by the Chilean Fondo Nacional de Desarrollo Científico y Tecnológico (Fondecyt), Grant 1140926. Doctoral fellowship Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso. 

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Correspondence to F. Guzmán.

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Fanny Guzmán, on behalf of all authors, declares that the manuscript has not been submitted to any other journal.

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Handling Editor: M. S. Palma.

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Carvajal-Rondanelli, P., Aróstica, M., Álvarez, C.A. et al. Understanding the antimicrobial properties/activity of an 11-residue Lys homopeptide by alanine and proline scan. Amino Acids 50, 557–568 (2018).

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  • Lysine homopeptide-antimicrobial activity-Ala
  • Pro scanning-membrane rupture