Tuning Activity of Antimicrobial Peptides by Lipidation

  • Bauke AlbadaEmail author
Living reference work entry
Part of the Handbook of Hydrocarbon and Lipid Microbiology book series (HHLM)


Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) are amino acid-based bioactive molecules that specifically target microbes. As such, they are a potent class of antibiotics, especially against bacterial infections. Naturally occurring AMPs are usually too long to be considered for therapeutic applications. To solve this, short sequences that mimic the activity of AMPs are designed. However, such endeavors are often accompanied with a reduction in antibacterial activity. To counter this, lipophilic molecules can be attached that function as a lipid anchor and target the short sequence to the bacterial membrane. For a range of short AMPs, this strategy has proven to lead to more active constructs. Although these lipidated short AMPs often work as complex target specific surfactants, more delicate modes of action that do not deviate too much from the nonlipidated counterparts are also known. This is readily observed by the large differences in activities that are detected when alterations in the lipid chain length and chirality of the amino acids residues are implemented. It is not uncommon to see that inactive or poorly active short AMPs can be turned into potent antibacterial agents. Importantly, selectivity of the short lipidated AMPs (lipoAMPs) for the bacterial membrane can be enhanced by alteration of the amino acid chirality. This strategy has led to lipoAMPs with submicromolar activities; in fact, activities that rival that of vancomycin have been observed for several short AMPs. Future research needs to determine (i) the effect of lipidation on the formation of lipid rafts in the bacterial membrane, (ii) if structural complications like branched lipids or chiral substituents on the lipid chain can be used to further increase the activity and selectivity of the conjugates, and (iii) if additional functionalities other than a membrane-anchoring ability can be bestowed on the lipid chain, e.g., redox activity or scavenger for small molecular components that traverse the lipid membrane. The interplay between degree of lipophilicity and the chirality of the amino acids of the AMP also needs further exploration, especially to see if more potent and selective (lipo)AMPs can be obtained that can be applied systemically. It may also be advisable to measure the most potent lipoAMPs in a centralized facility in order to obtain objective and comparable antibacterial activities.



I thank my colleagues from my period in Germany, in alphabetical order: Julia Bandow, Heike Brötz-Österhelt, Nils Metzler-Nolte, Hans-Georg Sahl, and Michaela Wenzel. Furthermore, I thank my current colleagues at the Wageningen University for their fruitful discussions and highly inspirational scientific working environment.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratory for Organic ChemistryWageningen University & ResearchWageningenThe Netherlands

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