Investigation of the role of tryptophan residues in cationic antimicrobial peptides to determine the mechanism of antimicrobial action



Dejing Shang, Liaoning Provincial Key Laboratory of Biotechnology and Drug Discovery, Liaoning Normal University, Dalian 116081, China. E-mail:



To understand the effects of Trp residues in linear antimicrobial peptides with α-helical conformations on cell permeation ability and membrane transduction efficacy.

Methods and Results

A series of L-K6 analogues were designed and synthesized by replacing Ile or Leu with Trp at different positions on the hydrophobic face of L-K6. The antimicrobial and haemolytic activity and secondary structure of the designed Trp-containing peptides were assessed. In addition, the role of Trp in membrane disruption for these designed peptides was investigated. I1W, I4W and L5W demonstrated stronger activity than the other peptides against both Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria. All of the tested peptides preferentially interacted with negatively charged vesicles composed of phosphatidylglycerol (PG)/cardiolipin (CL) or PG/CL/phosphatidylethanolamine, and, to a lesser extent, with zwitterionic vesicles. I1W, I4W and L5W caused calcein release at 2·5 μmol l−1.


The position of Trp, rather than the number of Trp residues, in these peptides was an important factor in the antimicrobial activity. Trp residues were deeply inserted into negatively charged membranes but were largely exposed in aqueous buffer solution.

Significance and Impact of the Study

These Trp-containing peptides may represent good candidates for new antibiotic agents and for use in new therapeutic approaches.