The dramatic and ever-increasing emergence of many relevant strains of bacteria resistant to traditional antibiotics (of which no radically new structural class has been introduced into medical practice over the past 30 years) is a major issue in human health. The problem is further complicated by the fact that not only has there been an explosion of resistance to antibiotics but also a rapid increase in multi-drug resistance. We have now seen the development of so called “Superbugs” that are resistant to most or all of the available antibiotics. Vertebrates and other organisms have developed a defense system to microbial infections composed of distinct groups of broad spectrum antimicrobial peptides (AMPs).
My group has been studying amphipathic α-helical AMPs for years and has made six innovative discoveries critical to the development of AMPs as therapeutics. 1) Discovery of “specificity determinants,” that is, an amino acid substitution(s) in the non-polar face of amphipathic α-helical or cyclic β-sheet AMPs that dramatically reduces toxicity to human red blood cells; 2) The development of a novel method to measure self-association of small amphipathic molecules; 3) the discovery that increasing hydrophobicity on the non-polar face beyond an optimum can lead to inactive AMPs; 4) the novel discovery that “specificity determinants” when inserted into native broad-spectrum AMPs directed selectivity to Gram-negative pathogens; 5) Methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) strains are more susceptible to AMPs than Methicillin-sensitive S. aureus (MSSA) strains. This suggested that pathogens in developing antibiotic resistance are modifying their membrane composition/structure which makes the membrane more sensitive to AMPs; 6) advances in our understanding of mechanism of action of amphipathic α-helical AMPs and the desired properties, for a clinical therapeutic; (i) the importance of lack of secondary structure in aqueous medium but inducible α-helical structure in the presence of the hydrophobic environment of the membrane; (ii) “specificity determinants” reduce or eliminate toxicity by decreasing or eliminating transmembrane penetration into eukaryotic membranes but allowing AMP access to the interface region of prokaryotic membranes; (iii) reducing self-association in aqueous environment is an important property influencing biological activity; (iv) there is an optimum hydrophobicity window to maintain high antimicrobial activity; (v) the sole target of the AMP should be the bacterial membrane and the AMP should not be involved in any stereoselective interaction with chiral enzymes or lipids or protein receptors; (vi) peptides should be prepared in the all-D conformation to provide resistance to proteolysis.
Selected publications are listed.
Jiang, Z., L. Gera, C.T. Mant and R.S. Hodges. Design of new antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) with “specificity determinants” that encode selectivity for gram-negative pathogens and remove gram-positive and hemolytic activity from broad-spectrum AMPs. In Enabling Peptide Research from Basic Research to Drug Discovery, Proceedings of the 24th American Peptide Symposium, Orlando, FL (V. Srivastava, A. Yudin and M. Lebl, editors) pp. 245-248 (2015). Published by the American Peptide Society and Propt Scientific Publishing, 2015.
Jiang, Z., A.J. Vasil, M.L. Vasil and R.S. Hodges. “Specificity determinants” improve therapeutic indices of two antimicrobial peptides Piscidin 1 and Dermaseptin S4 against gram-negative pathogens Acinetobacter baumannii and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Pharmaceuticals 7: 366-391 (2014); DOI 10.3390/ph7040366.
Z. Jiang, A.I. Vasil, L. Gera, M.L. Vasil and R.S. Hodges. Rational design of a-helical antimicrobial peptides to target gram-negative pathogens, Acinetobacter baumannii and Pseudomonas aeruginosa: Utilization charge, “specificity determinants”, total hydrophobicity, hydrophobe type and location as design parameters to improve the therapeutic ratio. Chem. Biol & Drug Design 77: 225-240 (2011). (Journal Cover Figure) PMC3063396 PMID21219588
Hodges, R.S., Z. Jiang, J. Whitehurst, and C.T. Mant. Devleopment of antimicrobial peptides as therapeutic agents. In, “Development of Therapeutic Agents Handbook” (Ed. by Shayne C. Gad), John Wiley and Sons Inc. pp. 285-358 (2011).