• biofilm;
  • pH-dependent antimicrobial activity;
  • Streptococcus mutans;
  • targeted antimicrobial therapy

Dental caries is a microbial biofilm infection in which the metabolic activities of plaque bacteria result in a dramatic pH decrease and shift the demineralization/remineralization equilibrium on the tooth surface towards demineralization. In addition to causing a net loss in tooth minerals, creation of an acidic environment favors growth of acid-enduring and acid-generating species, which causes further reduction in the plaque pH. In this study, we developed a prototype antimicrobial peptide capable of achieving high activity exclusively at low environmental pH to target bacterial species like Streptococcus mutans that produce acid and thrive under the low pH conditions detrimental for tooth integrity. The features of clavanin A, a naturally occurring peptide rich in histidine and phenylalanine residues with pH-dependent antimicrobial activity, served as a design basis for these prototype ‘acid-activated peptides’ (AAPs). Employing the major cariogenic species S. mutans as a model system, the two AAPs characterized in this study exhibited a striking pH-dependent antimicrobial activity, which correlated well with the calculated charge distribution. This type of peptide represents a potential new way to combat dental caries.