Antimicrobial peptides: structure, function and resistance
Higher eukaryotes produce a vast range of antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) that play important roles in their defence against microbial infection. Beta defensins are small (3-5 kDa), cationic peptides that display broad, potent antimicrobial activity against a range of microbes and also act as chemoattractants of important immunomodulatory cells. To generate highly pure peptides for structural and functional studies, we developed a method to prepare recombinant human beta defensin-2 (HBD2). The HBD2 gene was synthesised by recursive PCR with codons optimised for expression in Escherichia coli. HBD2 was expressed as an insoluble fusion to a His-tagged ketosteroid isomerase. After cleavage from the fusion with cyanogen bromide, 1H NMR spectroscopy and mass spectrometry confirmed that the oxidised HBD2 was folded and possessed the correct b-defensin disulfide bond topology. The recombinant HBD2 was active against E. coli, P. aeruginosa, S. aureus and C. albicans and was also a chemoattractant against HEK293 cells expressing the chemokine receptor CCR6. 15N-labelled HBD2 was also prepared and was highly suitable for future structural studies. Since defensins are thought to interact with bacterial membranes we also tested the recombinant HBD2 in biophysical studies (surface plasmon resonance, SPR, Biacore). We observed different binding to artificial model membranes containing either E. coli Kdo2-lipid A or phospholipids. Bacterial resistance to AMPs has been linked to the covalent modification of the outer membrane lipid A by 4-amino-4-deoxy-L-arabinose (L-Ara4N). This neutralises the charge of the LPS, thereby decreasing the electrostatic attraction of cationic peptides to the bacterial membrane. The pathogen Burkholderia cenocepacia displays extremely high resistance to AMPs and other antibiotics and the Ara4N pathway appears to be essential. To explore this further we expressed recombinant forms of two enzymes (ArnB and ArnG) from the B. cenocepacia Ara4N pathway. Purified ArnB is a pyridoxal 5’-phosphate (PLP)-dependent transaminase and we tested its ability to bind amino acid substrates. We investigated the binding of inhibitors L- and D-cycloserine to ArnB and tested their antibiotic activity against Burkholderia strains. We also studied the B. cenocepacia ArnG – a proposed membrane protein undecaprenyl-L-Ara4N flippase – and showed that the protein behaved as a dimer by non-denaturing gel analysis. The B. cenocepacia ArnG failed to complement E. coli knock-out strains encoding the equivalent flippase proteins ArnE and ArnF, suggesting that ArnG is a Burkholderia-specific protein.