Antibacterial action of structurally diverse cationic peptides on gram- positive bacteria

Carol L. Friedrich, Dianne Moyles, Terry J. Beveridge, Robert E.W. Hancock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

389 Citations (Scopus)


Antimicrobial cationic peptides are ubiquitous in nature and are thought to be a component of the first line of defense against infectious agents. It is widely believed that the killing mechanism of these peptides on bacteria involves an interaction with the cytoplasmic membrane. Cationic peptides from different structural classes were used in experiments with Staphylococcus aureus and other medically important gram-positive bacteria to gain insight into the mechanism of action. The membrane potential-sensitive fluorophore dipropylthiacarbocyanine was used to assess the interactions of selected antimicrobial peptides with the cytoplasmic membrane of S. aureus. Study of the kinetics of killing and membrane depolarization showed that, at early time points, membrane depolarization was incomplete, even when 90% or more of the bacteria had been killed. CP26, a 26-amino-acid α-helical peptide with a high MIC against S. aureus, still had the ability to permeabilize the membrane. Cytoplasmic-membrane permeabilization was a widespread ability and an action that may be necessary for reaching an intracellular target but in itself did not appear to be the killing mechanism. Transmission electron microscopy of S. aureus and Staphylococcus epidermidis treated with CP29 (a 26-amino-acid α-helical peptide), CP11CN (a 13-amino-acid, proline, and tryptophan-rich peptide), and Bac2A-NH2 (a linearized version of the 12- amino-acid loop peptide bactenecin) showed variability in effects on bacterial structure. Mesosome-like structures were seen to develop in S. aureus, whereas cell wall effects and mesosomes were seen with S. epidermidis. Nuclear condensation and abherrent septation were occasionally seen in S. epidermidis. Our experiments indicated that these peptides vary in their mechanisms of action and that the mechanism of action likely does not solely involve cytoplasmic-membrane permeabilization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2086-2092
Number of pages7
JournalAntimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished or Issued - 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases

Cite this