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Antimicrobial peptides of multicellular organisms

Abstract

Multicellular organisms live, by and large, harmoniously with microbes. The cornea of the eye of an animal is almost always free of signs of infection. The insect flourishes without lymphocytes or antibodies. A plant seed germinates successfully in the midst of soil microbes. How is this accomplished? Both animals and plants possess potent, broad-spectrum antimicrobial peptides, which they use to fend off a wide range of microbes, including bacteria, fungi, viruses and protozoa. What sorts of molecules are they? How are they employed by animals in their defence? As our need for new antibiotics becomes more pressing, could we design anti-infective drugs based on the design principles these molecules teach us?

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Figure 1: Clustering of cationic and hydrophobic amino acids into distinct domains in several antimicrobial peptides of different structural classes.
Figure 2: The membrane target of antimicrobial peptides of multicellular organisms and the basis of specificity.
Figure 3: The Shai–Matsuzaki–Huang model of the mechanism of action of an antimicrobial peptide.
Figure 4: Signalling cascades that activate antimicrobial peptide genes in the fat body of Drosophila.

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Acknowledgements

I thank A. Nelson for his critical reading of the manuscript. I apologize to my many colleagues whose work I have not cited, owing to constraints on the length of this review.

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Zasloff, M. Antimicrobial peptides of multicellular organisms. Nature 415, 389–395 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1038/415389a

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