• Acinetobacter baumannii;
  • antimicrobial peptides;
  • Gram-negative pathogens;
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa;
  • specificity determinants

The rapidly growing problem of increased resistance to classical antibiotics makes the development of new classes of antimicrobial agents with lower rates of resistance urgent. Amphipathic cationic α-helical antimicrobial peptides have been proposed as a potential new class of antimicrobial agents. The goal of this study was to take a broad-spectrum, 26-residue, antimicrobial peptide in the all-D conformation, peptide D1 (K13) with excellent biologic properties and address the question of whether a rational design approach could be used to enhance the biologic properties if the focus was on Gram-negative pathogens only. To test this hypothesis, we used 11 and 6 diverse strains of Acinetobacter baumannii and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, respectively. We optimized the number and location of positively charged residues on the polar face, the number, location, and type of hydrophobe on the non-polar face and varied the number of ‘specificity determinants’ in the center of the non-polar face from 1 to 2 to develop four new antimicrobial peptides. We demonstrated not only improvements in antimicrobial activity, but also dramatic reductions in hemolytic activity and unprecedented improvements in therapeutic indices. Compared to our original starting peptide D1 (V13), peptide D16 had a 746-fold improvement in hemolytic activity (i.e. decrease), maintained antimicrobial activity, and improved the therapeutic indices by 1305-fold and 895-fold against A. baumannii and P. aeruginosa, respectively. The resulting therapeutic indices for D16 were 3355 and 895 for A. baumannii and P. aeruginosa, respectively. D16 is an ideal candidate for commercialization as a clinical therapeutic to treat Gram-negative bacterial infections.