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Keywords:

  • NMR;
  • TFE;
  • circular dichroism;
  • frog-skin peptide;
  • folding propensity

Abstract

Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) are found in various classes of organisms as part of the innate immune system. Despite high sequence variability, they share common features such as net positive charge and an amphipathic fold when interacting with biologic membranes. Esculentin-1b is a 46-mer frog-skin peptide, which shows an outstanding antimicrobial activity. Experimental studies revealed that the N-terminal fragment encompassing the first 18 residues, Esc(1-18), is responsible for the antimicrobial activity of the whole peptide, with a negligible toxicity toward eukaryotic cells, thus representing an excellent candidate for future pharmaceutical applications. Similarly to most of the known AMPs, Esc(1-18) is expected to act by destroying/permeating the bacterial plasma-membrane but, to date, its 3D structure and the detailed mode of action remains unexplored. Before an in-depth investigation on peptide/membranes interactions could be undertaken, it is necessary to characterize peptide's folding propensity in solution, to understand what is intrinsically due to the peptide sequence, and what is actually driven by the membrane interaction. Circular dichroism and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy were used to determine the structure adopted by the peptide, moving from water to increasing amounts of trifluoroethanol. The results showed that Esc(1-18) has a clear tendency to fold in a helical conformation as hydrophobicity of the environment increases, revealing an intriguing amphipathic structure. The helical folding is adopted only by the N-terminal portion of the peptide, while the rest is unstructured. The presence of a hydrophobic cluster of residues in the C-terminal portion suggests its possible membrane-anchoring role. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Biopolymers 97:873–881, 2012.