Methods for increasing the proteolytic stability of EFK17 (EFKRIVQRIKDFLRNLV), a new peptide sequence with antimicrobial properties derived from LL-37, were evaluated. EFK17 was modified by four d-enantiomer or tryptophan (W) substitutions at known protease cleavage sites as well as by terminal amidation and acetylation. The peptide variants were studied in terms of proteolytic resistance, antibacterial potency, and cytotoxicity but also in terms their adsorption at model lipid membranes, liposomal leakage generation, and secondary-structure behavior. The W substitutions resulted in a marked reduction in the proteolytic degradation caused by human neutrophil elastase, Staphylococcus aureus aureolysin, and V8 protease but not in the degradation caused by Pseudomonas aeruginosa elastase. For the former two endoproteases, amidation and acetylation of the terminals also reduced proteolytic degradation but only when used in combination with W substitutions. The d-enantiomer substitutions rendered the peptides indigestible by all four proteases; however, those peptides displayed little antimicrobial potency. The W- and end-modified peptides, on the other hand, showed an increased bactericidal potency compared to that of the native peptide sequence, coupled with a moderate cytotoxicity that was largely absent in serum. The bactericidal, cytotoxic, and liposome lytic properties correlated with each other as well as with the amount of peptide adsorbed at the lipid membrane and the extent of helix formation associated with the adsorption. The lytic properties of the W-substituted peptides were less impaired by increased ionic strength, presumably by a combination of W-mediated stabilization of the largely amphiphilic helix conformation and a nonelectrostatic W affinity for the bilayer interface. Overall, W substitutions constitute an interesting means to reduce the proteolytic susceptibility of EFK17 while also improving antimicrobial performance.
2009. Vol. 53, no 2, 593-602 p.