Antibacterial peptides: basic facts and emerging concepts


Professor Hans G. Boman, Microbiology and Tumor Biology Center, Box 280, Karolinska Institutet, S-171 77 Stockholm, Sweden. (e-mail:


Abstract.  Boman HG (Microbiology and Tumor Biology Center, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden). Antibacterial peptides: basic facts and emerging concepts (Review). J Intern Med 2003; 254: 197–215.

Antibacterial peptides are the effector molecules of innate immunity. Generally they contain 15–45 amino acid residues and the net charge is positive. The cecropin type of linear peptides without cysteine were found first in insects, whilst the defensin type with three disulphide bridges were found in rabbit granulocytes. Now a database stores more than 800 sequences of antibacterial peptides and proteins from the animal and plant kingdoms. Generally, each species has 15–40 peptides made from genes, which code for only one precursor. The dominating targets are bacterial membranes and the killing reaction must be faster than the growth rate of the bacteria. Some antibacterial peptides are clearly multifunctional and an attempt to predict this property from the hydrophobicity of all amino acid side chains are given. Gene structures and biosynthesis are known both in the fruit fly Drosophila and several mammals. Humans need two classes of defensins and the cathelicidin-derived linear peptide LL-37. Clinical cases show that deficiencies in these peptides give severe symptoms. Examples given are morbus Kostmann and atopic allergy. Several antibacterial peptides are being developed as drugs.