Beating the bad bugs using antimicrobial peptides

Emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria at alarming rate is one of the major ongoing catastrophes. Most antibiotics are failing to control these bacteria, and now the emergence of “Super Bug” have created serious health-safety concerns. Researchers around the world have been trying to develop alternate methods to control the microbial infections. Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) have demonstrated promising results in controlling the microbial infections. AMPs are five to few hundred amino acids long oligopeptides and are capable to kill a broad range of microorganisms such as viruses and bacteria [1].

First AMP, gramicidin, extracted from a Bacillus strain in 1939, was used for topical treatments of wounds and ulcers [2]. Natural AMPs can be found both in prokaryotes and eukaryotes. As of now, more than 5,000 AMPs have been discovered. AMPs target different cellular components and reactions including disrupting membrane integrity, inhibiting proteins, DNA and RNA synthesis to kill the cells.  One of the major limitations to use natural AMPs is their toxicities. Advancement in computational biology has encouraged researchers to efficiently develop synthetic AMPs, demonstrating lower toxicity and improved activity. Synthetic AMPs have successfully been used to kill several pathogenic bacteria [3].

Since AMPs target different cellular components, the emergence of resistance is unlikely. While antibiotics target a specific cellular component, therefore, the emergence of antibiotic resistance can be comparatively faster. Though AMPs have demonstrated potential to control the microbial infections, they are not commercially available due to several factors such as high production costs, susceptibility to proteases and potential toxicity [4]. Researchers across the world are trying to overcome these limitations and hopefully we will see these bug beaters at our pharmacy stores soon in the future.

  1. Brown K.L., Hancock R.E. Cationic host defense (antimicrobial) peptides. Opin. Immunol. 2006; 18:24–30.
  2. Van Epps H.L. Rene dubos: Unearthing antibiotics. Exp. Med. 2006; 203:259.
  3. Nagarajan, Deepesh, et al. Computational antimicrobial peptide design and evaluation against multidrug-resistant clinical isolates of bacteria. J. Biol. Chem. 2018; 293.10: 3492-3509.
  4. Dutta, P., and Das, S.Mammalian antimicrobial peptides: promising therapeutic targets against infection and chronic inflammation. Top. Med. Chem. 2015; 16: 99–129.