Advances in antimicrobial peptide immunobiology

Author(s): Yount NY, Bayer AS, Xiong YQ, Yeaman MR


Antimicrobial peptides are ancient components of the innate immune system and have been isolated from organisms spanning the phylogenetic spectrum. Over an evolutionary time span, these peptides have retained potency, in the face of highly mutable target microorganisms. This fact suggests important coevolutionary influences in the host-pathogen relationship. Despite their diverse origins, the majority of antimicrobial peptides have common biophysical parameters that are likely essential for activity, including small size, cationicity, and amphipathicity. Although more than 900 different antimicrobial peptides have been characterized, most can be grouped as belonging to one of three structural classes: (1) linear, often of alpha-helical propensity; (2) cysteine stabilized, most commonly conforming to beta-sheet structure; and (3) those with one or more predominant amino acid residues, but variable in structure. Interestingly, these biophysical and structural features are retained in ribosomally as well as nonribosomally synthesized peptides. Therefore, it appears that a relatively limited set of physicochemical features is required for antimicrobial peptide efficacy against a broad spectrum of microbial pathogens. During the past several years, a number of themes have emerged within the field of antimicrobial peptide immunobiology. One developing area expands upon known microbicidal mechanisms of antimicrobial peptides to include targets beyond the plasma membrane. Examples include antimicrobial peptide activity involving structures such as extracellular polysaccharide and cell wall components, as well as the identification of an increasing number of intracellular targets. Additional areas of interest include an expanding recognition of antimicrobial peptide multifunctionality, and the identification of large antimicrobial proteins, and antimicrobial peptide or protein fragments derived thereof. The following discussion highlights such recent developments in antimicrobial peptide immunobiology, with an emphasis on the biophysical aspects of host-defense polypeptide action and mechanisms of microbial resistance.

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