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Keywords:

  • histidine-rich peptides;
  • acid-activation;
  • pH;
  • stability;
  • formulation;
  • peptide aggregates;
  • cancer;
  • multi-drug resistance;
  • macromolecular drug delivery;
  • solvation

Abstract

Lytic peptides are a group of membrane-acting peptides, which have excellent activity to drug-resistant cells. In this study, the stability and tumor selectivity of newly designed pH-activated lytic peptides were studied. We found that despite varied secondary structures, pH-induced structure changes could not be directly linked to the activity and pH sensitivity of peptides. On the contrary, formation of aggregates had great impacts on peptide binding and insertion into the lipid bilayer of cell membrane. It was found that the pH controlled peptide aggregation and dissolution was responsible for the pH-dependent membrane lysis activity of peptides. One peptide (PTP-7c) formed stable amyloid fibrils, which did not completely dissolve under acidic conditions. As a result, PTP-7c had the lowest membrane lysis and cell killing activities among tested lytic peptides. As solid tumors have consistently low extracellular pHs, peptides with acid-activation features showed improved selectivity to cancer cells. In addition, self-assembled lytic peptides were found to become more stable and showed dramatically increased half lives (up to 11 h) in human plasma. These new lytic peptides with good stability and acid-activated cell lysis activity will have wide biomedical applications especially for the treatment of cancers in which drug resistance has developed. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. and the American Pharmacists Association J Pharm Sci 101:1508–1517, 2012