Sublethal concentrations of pleurocidin-derived antimicrobial peptides inhibit macromolecular synthesis in Escherichia coli

Aleksander Patrzykat, Carol L. Friedrich, Lijuan Zhang, Valentina Mendoza, Robert E.W. Hancock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

246 Citations (Scopus)


Cationic bactericidal peptides are components of natural host defenses against infections. While the mode of antibacterial action of cationic peptides remains controversial, several targets, including the cytoplasmic membrane and macromolecular synthesis, have been identified for peptides acting at high concentrations. The present study identified peptide effects at lower, near-lethal inhibitory concentrations. An amidated hybrid of the flounder pleurocidin and the frog dermaseptin (P-Der), two other pleurocidin derivatives, and pleurocidin itself were studied. At 2 μg/ml, the MIC, P-Der inhibited Escherichia coli growth in a broth dilution assay but did not cause bacterial death within 30 min, as estimated by viable count analysis. Consistent with this, P-Der demonstrated a weak ability to permeabilize membranes but was able to translocate across the lipid bilayer of unilamellar liposomes. Doses of 20 μg/ml or more reduced bacterial viable counts by about 2 log orders of magnitude within 5 min after peptide treatment. Abrupt loss of cell membrane potential, observed with a fluorescent dye, dipropylthiacarbocyanine, paralleled bacterial death but did not occur at the sublethal, inhibitory concentrations. Both lethal and sublethal concentrations of P-Der affected macromolecular synthesis within 5 min, as demonstrated by incorporation of [3H] thymidine, [3H]uridine, and [3H]histidine, but the effects were qualitatively distinct at the two concentrations. Variations of the inhibition pattern described above were observed for pleurocidin and two other derivatives. Our results indicate that peptides at their lowest inhibitory concentrations may be less capable of damaging cell membranes, while they maintain their ability to inhibit macromolecular synthesis. Better understanding of the effects of peptides acting at their MICs will contribute to the design of new peptides effective at lower, less toxic concentrations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)605-614
Number of pages10
JournalAntimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished or Issued - 4 Mar 2002
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases

Cite this