Toward the de novo design of antimicrobial peptides: Lack of correlation between peptide permeabilization of lipid vesicles and antimicrobial, cytolytic, or cytotoxic activity in living cells


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We previously performed a lipid vesicle-based, high-throughput screen on a 26-residue combinatorial peptide library that was designed de novo to yield membrane-permeabilizing peptides that fold into β-sheets. The most active and soluble library members that were identified permeabilized lipid vesicles detectably, but not with high potency. Nonetheless, they were broad-spectrum, membrane-permeabilizing antibiotics with minimum sterilizing activity at low µM concentrations. In an expansion of that work, we recently performed an iterative screen in which an active consensus sequence from that first-generation library was used as a template to design a second-generation library which was then screened against lipid vesicles at very high stringency. Compared to the consensus sequence from the first library, the most active second-generation peptides are highly potent, equilibrium pore-formers in synthetic lipid vesicles. Here, we use these first- and second-generation families of peptides to test the hypothesis that a large increase in potency in bacteria-like lipid vesicles will correlate with a large improvement in antimicrobial activity. The results do not support the hypothesis. Despite a 20-fold increase in potency against bacteria-like lipid vesicles, the second-generation peptides are only slightly more active against bacteria, and at the same time, are also more toxic against mammalian cells. The results suggest that a “pipeline” strategy toward the optimization of antimicrobial peptides could begin with a vesicle-based screen for identifying families with broad-spectrum activity, but will also need to include screening or optimization steps that are done under conditions that are more directly relevant to possible therapeutic applications. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Biopolymers (Pept Sci) 102: 1–6, 2014.